Mark Ridley-Thomas lawyers confirm deal with city to reimburse him $364,573

LA City Council had agreed to reinstate his salary while Ridley-Thomas awaits 2023 corruption trial

Attorneys for suspended Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas — who faces federal corruption charges over his actions while serving on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors — have filed court papers confirming a resolution of his lawsuit against the city and City Controller Ron Galperin for suspending his pay and benefits.

The accord comes after the City Council on Dec. 7 voted to reinstate both his salary and benefits and pay Ridley-Thomas a total of $364,573.

“Plaintiff will dismiss his claims after receipt of the settlement payment,” Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers stated in their court papers filed Monday, Dec. 19, with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra.

A hearing is scheduled Jan. 31 to address why the case should not be dismissed, but that hearing will be canceled if the case is dropped before then.

Galperin suspended Ridley-Thomas’ pay and benefits after the council member was indicted. Ridley-Thomas and former dean of the USC School of Social Work, Marilyn Flynn, are charged in a 20-count indictment that alleges that in a secret deal then-county supervisor Ridley-Thomas agreed to steer county money to USC if the university admitted his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas to graduate school — with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.

Flynn pleaded guilty in the corruption case in September.

Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the council in October 2021 after his indictment. His lawsuit filed on July 28 alleged that city controller Galperin acted unilaterally to cut Ridley-Thomas’ pay and did so to help his campaign for state controller. Galperin finished fifth in the field of six.

The council voted 10-1 to approve the settlement with Ridley-Thomas. Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell cast the lone vote in dissent.

In a statement, Galperin said his earlier decision was “in accordance with city law.”

“I acted because my job as controller and the taxpayers’ watchdog required it,” Galperin said.

The settlement includes $254,000 in back pay and $99,500 in attorneys’ fees.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Daily News

Column: At the DWP, The Pay is Good, the Benefits are Better and the Deals Keep Getting Sweeter

More than once over the years, when people have complained about how hard it is to survive in a low-wage economy with such crippling healthcare costs, I’ve recommended they apply for work at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

I was reminded a few days ago, as terms of the new DWP contract were revealed, that this is still solid advice. And there’s more good news: the utility, never far removed from scandal, is hiring.

In a story by Dakota Smith, The Times reported that Mayor Eric Garcetti was backing a handsome pay hike for water and power employees after an 11-0 vote by the Los Angeles City Council.

The highlights:

Roughly 10,000 employees of the all-powerful campaign-donation factory known as Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will get raises ranging from 10% to 24% over four years.

All workers will get 3% stocking stuffers as a cash bonus.

On top of those increases, 800 utility workers will get an additional package of raises over the four years ranging from 20% to 41%. In one scenario, some workers’ salaries could rise as much as 74%.

And once again, despite years of promises from Garcetti and others to demand employee healthcare contributions, going to the doctor or hospital will continue to be virtually free for the vast majority of workers.

A Garcetti spokesman said the mayor believes “this contract will put the city in a strong position to maintain and attract a skilled workforce to deliver our most critical city services.”

But this is the same mayor who said in 2013, after defeating IBEW-backed candidate Wendy Greuel, that DWP employees needed to start contributing to their healthcare costs. The mayor then held up a contract deal and did win significant concessions, but he wimped out on demanding healthcare contributions.

The same thing happened in the 2017 contract, when handsome raises were awarded, but the healthcare freebie remained in place. So during the Garcetti reign as mayor, that’s strike one in 2013, strike two in 2017, and now strike three.

“It’s outrageous,” Jamie Court, of Consumer Watchdog, said of the new contract.

“The worst part of this deal,” said former L.A. city official Rick Cole, who is returning to work for newly elected controller Kenneth Mejia, is that other city unions “will want to use it as their benchmark, and the city’s about to hit recession revenue shrink.”

To be fair, healthcare ought to be free or at least more affordable for everyone. But that’s a story for another time.

And I should say that not everyone thinks this new DWP contract is out of line. One reason is the contention that compensation is higher at other utilities, some of which have enticed and poached DWP employees by dangling better offers. That’s what Garcetti was getting at in saying this contract will “maintain and attract a skilled workforce.”

A DWP spokesperson, quoting his bosses, said that of the 150 electrical line workers trained in the last five years, 70 left because “our salaries were not competitive.” The DWP says hundreds of vacancies exist because of hiring difficulties, and that’s driving up overtime costs to maintain operations.

Meanwhile, ratepayer advocate Fred Pickel told me he supports the new contract, based in part on his research into pay packages offered by competing utilities. Pickel said the DWP is top of the heap when it comes to healthcare coverage, but when you factor in pay, pensions and other benefits, the DWP’s standing falls.

In charts Pickel provided, the DWP “falls around the median” in average total compensation at $169,000, well below the high of $230,000 and above the low of $118,000.

In base salary alone, DWP custodians make $60,000, painters make $90,000, steam plant mechanics make $107,000, water utility superintendents make $166,000 and electrical services managers make $228,000.

But all these numbers, which aren’t bad to begin with, will rise with the new contract. And healthcare will still be virtually free, for those who choose Kaiser, or close to it for those who choose other plans.

Given the rising personnel and retiree costs, which will come as the DWP confronts green energy costs that will be in the tens of billions of dollars, you’d think there would have been a robust public vetting of this new contract, which will cost between $55 million and $111.8 million a year.

Skeptics should have had a chance to grill DWP officials and demand specific examples of poaching. They should have been able to ask whether a utility that had a comically egregious overbilling fiasco not long ago and watched a recent corrupt GM get hauled off to prison could be trusted to have competently negotiated the new contract.

Another fair question: How long might it be before ratepayers — who are saddled with both their own healthcare costs as well as those of DWP employees — pay more to turn on their lights and faucets.

But as Smith reported, the City Council — limping along in the wake of the recent racism scandal — opted not to have a public hearing on the new pay package, just like it opted out in 2017. And outgoing Councilmember Paul Koretz, who heads the personnel committee that could have challenged the deal, declined to comment.

“This isn’t about keeping employees for the city,” Court said. “It’s about payback for one of the most connected unions in the city and it’s a going-away gift from politicians who have nothing to lose.”

The IBEW political wing donated in the recent election cycle to Councilmember Curren Price and incoming Councilmembers Traci Park and Tim McOsker. It also pumped more than $1.4 million into a political action committee to support Mayor-elect Karen Bass.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

Chinese company is found guilty of bribing ex-LA Councilman Jose Huizar

Owned by fugitive billionaire Huang Wei, the company showered Huizar with dirty cash, prosecutors said

A Chinese real estate company was convicted on Thursday, Nov. 10, of federal charges of bribing former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar with cash and gambling trips in exchange for his support in getting approval for a towering downtown L.A. skyscraper.

Shen Zhen New World I, owned by fugitive developer Wei Huang who fled to China, faces millions of dollars in fines in its  sentencing at Los Angeles federal court on Jan. 23, 2023. Jose Huizar faces trial next February on federal bribery and fraud charges.

A Los Angeles federal jury on Thursday found Shen Zhen New World I guilty of eight counts including honest services wire fraud, interstate and foreign travel in aid of bribery, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Federal prosecutors have convicted nine defendants as a result of “Operation Casino Loyale,” a broad corruption investigation into Los Angeles City Hall by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A thick trial memo written by federal prosecutors recently unveiled dramatic new fireworks, alleging that Huizar was so entangled with Huang that he traveled with the billionaire Huang to Las Vegas 19 times.

Billionaire Huang planned to build a 77-story tower on the site of the L.A. Grand Hotel downtown, and federal prosecutors said the company bribed the ex-councilman to smooth the way. Prosecutors said Huang allegedly gave Huizar $1.5 million, including $250,000 in casino chips and a loan which Huizar never paid back.

An earlier conviction in June involved real estate developer Dae Yong Lee and one of his companies, found guilty of federal criminal charges for allegedly providing $500,000 in cash to Huizar and his special assistant in exchange for their help in resolving a labor organization’s appeal involving a downtown Los Angeles development project.

Devastating testimony in recent days by Huizar’s estranged wife, Richelle Rios, detailed her suspicion that her husband was involved in an extra-marital affair, and in August 2013 she learned that Huizar was being sued by a former aide alleging sexual harassment. The woman sought between $600,000 and $1 million to settle with her ex-boss, Rios said.

Because Huizar was about to run for his third and final four-year term on the Los Angeles City Council — and news of the lawsuit could potentially torpedo his campaign — Huizar and his associates were worried, Richelle Rios testified.

Rios, who did not face charges, said she was called to a meeting with her husband, and then-Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan who is also accused of wrongdoing, and billionaire Huang — known in Huizar’s circle as “Chairman Huang.”

The topic of the meeting: How Huang could “help in resolving the lawsuit,” Rios testified.

“They wanted to know if I was going to stay in the marriage and would I stand with (Huizar),” Rios, 53, told the jury.

She said she felt “humiliated, angry and devastated” about the situation, but agreed. Huizar was able to privately resolve the suit and was re-elected.

Around that time, Huizar began traveling with Huang to Las Vegas and elsewhere on private jets for weekend gambling trips, Rios said.

After one such trip, Rios testified, she found “a stack of cash” in hundreds at their home. She attempted to speak to her husband about it, but the conversation quickly turned “unpleasant,” she told jurors. Another time, she said, she found a wad of hundred-dollar bills about an inch thick hidden in a traveler’s belt in a pocket in one of Huizar’s suits.

Opening statements began Thursday, Oct. 27 in the federal trial against Huang’s company and ended on Nov. 10 with his company found guilty.

The government’s trial memorandum, filed with the U.S. District Court on Oct. 17, outlined the evidence federal prosecutors  presented. The case included voluminous records, and the new details alleged that the relationship between the powerful council member and the powerful billionaire was significantly closer than previously reported.

A federal prosecutor told the jury that the China-based hotel company owned by Huang provided Huizar with over $1 million in bribes, trips on private jets and “casino chips and prostitutes” in exchange for his official support of a downtown L.A. skyscraper project.

Huang wanted to build the tallest skyscraper on the West Coast at West 3rd and Figueroa streets, where the Huang-owned Grand Hotel still stands.

The defense said that L.A. city officials “universally loved” Huang’s proposed project, so “there was no reason to bribe anyone” to approve it.

Shen Zhen New World I was charged by the Department of Justice with interstate and foreign travel in support of bribery, devising and participating in a scheme to defraud the city of Los Angeles and to deny its citizens of Huizar’s honest services.

The trial offered a glimpse into the alleged criminal relationship between the billionaire real estate developer and the high-rolling former councilman, whose District 14 included much of downtown and is now represented by Councilman Kevin de Leon who, himself, is caught in a more recent City Hall scandal.

Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson, who served on the L.A. City Ethics Commission, said earlier during the trial that  federal prosecutors were trying to present evidence showing that Huizar had a relationship with the billionaire real estate developer that stretched well beyond what has previously been reported.

“I think what (federal prosecutors) are really trying to show is closeness and coziness and the possibility of favors and favoritism and preferential access,” Levinson said.

Representatives for Huizar and Shen Zhen New World I didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment during the trial.

Huang, who also maintains a residence in the upscale San Gabriel Valley suburb of San Marino, did not appear in court before he vanished, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, who added that charges against Huang will remain pending.

“It will be a criminal trial, and it’s just (that) the defendant is a corporate entity,” Mrozek said in late October. “You can’t put a corporate entity in prison, but you can — if it’s convicted — obtain another sanction against it like probation, court supervision, fine and restitution.”

On the opening day of the trial, federal prosecutors said that Huang allegedly provided Huizar and his special assistant George Esparza with a “lineup of prostitutes for their choosing” during the trips, adding that “It would become a recurring theme of their trips together.”

Prosecutors alleged that Huang’s company provided Huizar with casino gambling chips cash, flights on private jets, lavish meals and trips to Las Vegas. In exchange, prosecutors alleged, Huang expected Huizar to hurry the city approval process for his L.A. Grand Hotel commercial and residential project.

“The stream of bribes turned into a flood” as Huang lavished Huizar with gifts, including a 10-day trip to Australia, visits to golf resorts, luxury suites, cash and private gambling in Las Vegas hotels, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Castañeda alleged.

According to the prosecutor’s troubling memo released before the trial began, Huizar used his own family members to allegedly launder bribes that prosecutors claim Huizar got from Huang.

“Huizar consistently concealed the benefits he received, and his relationship with Mr. Wei Huang tends to demonstrate that Huizar understood that the money he received was for a corrupt purpose,” the federal prosecutors’ memo said.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Daily News

Alameda County Sued Over Racial Preferences in Awarding Governmental Contracts

CFER, PLF say that the County is violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment

The Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER), along with co-plaintiffs represented by Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), filed a lawsuit against Alameda County on Monday, challenging two public contracting programs that impose race-based preferences for minority-owned companies.

For decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against using racial quotas in the awarding of governmental contracts, such as in the 1989 landmark City of Richmond v. J.A. Cronson case, or in the 1996 Adarand Constructors v. Federico Pena decision. Both of those times, the justices found that the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment had been broken. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has even said that such programs are not permitted.

However, since these rulings, many cities and counties have found work-arounds to try to impose racial quotas in governmental contracts. In Alameda County, instead of imposing one of these “set-aside” programs, they went for a different name. Specifically, the Alameda County Public Works Agency implemented the “Construction Compliance Program,” with the General Services Agency overseeing the “Enhanced Construction Outreach Program.”

Both programs have “participation goals” for minority-owned businesses for county construction projects, essentially being a racial quota in all but name. These programs have been found to discriminate against subcontractors by excluding those not minority-owned from being considered for a job because the “participation goal” needing to be met.

As a result, the CFER and PLF filed Californians for Equal Rights Foundation v. Alameda County in the Superior Court of California in Alameda County on Monday.

“Racial quotas in public contracting, just as racial quotas elsewhere, are wrong and unconstitutional,” said PLF senior attorney Wen Fa in a statement on Monday. “The government should not be depriving opportunities for small businesses engaged in public contracting — and the Alameda County public contracting programs are particularly pernicious because they deprive opportunities based on race.”

Like similar prior cases, the CFER/PLF case is challenging the County based on the equal protection clause of the  14th amendment, as well as California’s Constitutional ban on racial preferences, which was recently upheld by voters in 2020 through Prop 16’s failure.

“California’s voters sent a strong message that they are serious about protecting the time-honored right of equality before the law, in 1996 when they approved Proposition 209, and again in 2020 when they defeated its repeal,” added CFER executive Vice President Gail Heriot. “Government favors on racial grounds have a pernicious past and do not belong in the 21st century.”

While many have also rushed to defend the case, affected construction company owners, including many who would benefit from racial quotas, noted that they have been more negative for the County and state.

“Minority-owned company set-asides and quotas have proven to be more harmful than good,” said Andrew Salazar, a mixed-race Construction company planner in Los Angeles, to the Globe on Monday. “These set-asides really do help many minority-owned businesses stay afloat by giving them a part of, say, a construction or renovation job. However, besides being constitutionally illegal, many have been associated with fraud, and taxpayers sometimes have to pay for a more expensive option. Rather than go with quality or the lowest-bidder, they go with a minority-owned firm.”

“And, here, especially in California, a lot of places see regular use of minority-owned companies because they are good and are not expensive. But a quota system muddles that up and quality can go down and cost goes up as a result. A lot of people also conveniently forget that any firm always hires a wide range of people, with many actually having a majority of Latino workers, so people of all races are getting work out of a normal and fair awarding of a contract. Things just become unfair when the quotas are put in place.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

S.F. Taxpayers Shell Out Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars a Year to Disgraced City Officials. This Plan Would End That

In the wake of a corruption scandal that ensnared some of San Francisco’s highest level officials, two city supervisors want to make sure those officials don’t keep receiving fat pension checks when they retire.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced a charter amendment trying to get on the Nov. 8 ballot that would make former city employees forfeit their pension after a finding of “clear and convincing evidence” from an administrative hearing held by the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System that they committed bribery, embezzlement, extortion, or wire fraud in connection with their city work, or committed perjury trying to conceal a crime.

With few exceptions, San Francisco city workers cannot currently lose their pensions unless they’re convicted of and sentenced for a crime of “moral turpitude,” which doesn’t have a clear legal definition.

The measure is not-so-subtly aimed at specific officials who’ve pleaded guilty or been charged with corruption over the past two years, but still get checks from the city every month.

As of last summer, Mohammed Nuru, the former Public Works director who pled guilty to accepting bribes from contractors, collects $7,200 a month. Tom Hui, the ex-Department of Building Inspection chief who resigned amid accusations of giving preferential treatment to a contractor in exchange for gifts, gets nearly $16,000. And Harlan Kelly, the former Public Utilities Commission head accused of trading insider information on city contracts for overseas trips and jewelry, rakes in about $21,000 a month.

It’s not clear if all three would be subject to the charter amendment if it makes the ballot and is passed.

Peskin wasn’t available for comment before deadline, but told Mission Local earlier this year that officials who “do all the kind of things that make everyone barf in their mouth about government” were just getting lucrative retirements.

Pensions are significant, since labor costs take up a majority of San Francisco’s $14 billion budget. The measure matters as the city’s widespread corruption scandal, which began in early 2020, drags on, and there’s a possibility that more high-level heads could still roll.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Irvine Mayor Distances Herself From Former Top Democratic Party Official Involved in FBI Probe

When one of Orange County’s top Democratic Party power brokers, Melahat Rafiei, got caught up in the FBI’s investigation into Anaheim last week, there were immediate calls from the state and local Democratic Party officials, with many calling on her to resign all her positions and take a step aside. 

But not Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan.

She was one of the few public officials who initially stood firm by Rafiei, calling her a “friend and advisor.”

Following the announcement of the FBI’s investigation, Rafiei publicly identified herself as Cooperating Witness 1, described by FBI officials as a confidential source in their affidavit who wore a wire to multiple meetings with Anaheim officials to aid them in their investigation. 

The affidavit is part of an FBI corruption probe into Anaheim City Hall, which led to former 

Mayor Harry Sidhu resigning and the Angel Stadium land sale getting canned this week.

According to the documents released by the FBI, CW1 “was arrested on a complaint (based on the 2018 corruption scheme involving Irvine officials) and subsequently brought to the FBI office in Orange County where CW1 was interviewed. CW1 agreed to cooperate with the FBI during CW1’s interview. The complaint was dismissed without prejudice based on the government’s motion. CW1 has been assisting the FBI since the date of his/her arrest.” 

In footnotes, agents continued, with special agent Brian Adkins writing “CW1 and the government have not been able to reach an agreement on a pre-indictment resolution, and at this time, there is no further cooperation expected. Based on the government’s interaction with CW1 and CW1’s counsel, I believe CW1’s motive for cooperating in this investigation was to receive leniency for the federal criminal violation CW1 was originally arrested for, as well as other possible criminal conduct.” 

On Tuesday, Rafiei began to publicly dispute that she was ever arrested by the FBI, claiming through a spokeswoman that the documents had it wrong and that while she was detained, she was allowed to leave. 

FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller declined to comment, but said the affidavits are accurate in a text message to a Voice of OC reporter. 

When Rafiei’s name originally came up, Khan was one of her strongest defenders, putting out a statement calling her a “friend and advisor.” 

“I also want to be unequivocal in my support for my friend and advisor, Melahat Rafiei. I have seen her integrity and ethics up close and personal. She is a leader who deserves credit for rooting out this corruption,” Khan wrote in a post on her Facebook and Twitter last Friday. “I stand with her, and believe our justice system will do its job and clear her name.” 

Less than a week later, she issued a new statement. 

“I am horrified by what I have learned in the last week about the depth of manipulation of the public, our institutions, and our communities,” Khan wrote in a second statement posted exclusively on her Facebook page on Wednesday. “The press has reported that a former consultant for my campaign, Melahat Rafiei, is a cooperating witness in the investigation, unrelated to her work on my campaign. Ms. Rafiei is no longer involved in any way with my campaign.” 

When asked by Voice of OC about the second statement, Khan said that the only thing that changed for her was that Rafiei was no longer working as a campaign consultant. 

“I don’t have any contact with her. I still consider her a friend and I hope that justice will be served,” Khan said in a phone call with Voice of OC Thursday morning. 

While Khan did not say in any of her statements when she became aware of Rafiei’s cooperation in the investigation, Ann Solomon, Rafiei’s spokesperson, said Rafiei called and informed all of her clients about her role in the investigation in February. 

“I was on the phone with her through the process. She told every one of her clients what was going on in February,” Solomon said in a Wednesday phone interview. “Every one of them knew.”

But when Voice of OC followed up a day later with Solomon to confirm whether Khan had been notified, she said she didn’t have a full list of clients and could not say for sure whether specific people were informed.  

Cory Allen, who served as both Khan’s assistant on city staff and worked for Rafiei’s campaign consulting company Progressive Solutions Consulting, is still working for Khan, but left Progressive Solutions this month according to his LinkedIn page

Khan did not respond to a follow up text from reporters asking when she first became aware of Rafiei’s work with the FBI. 

This isn’t the first time this year that Khan has issued seemingly competing statements on a controversial issue. 

In March, she was called out for having Ergun Kirlikovali, who openly disputes the existence of the Armenian Genocide, serving on her mayoral advisory committee after a video surfaced showing the two laughing together at a meeting over a basket of Turkish delights. 

Click here to read the full article in the Voice of OC

Angels Officials Pressuring Anaheim to Approve Stadium Deal; Deadline Given

Anaheim city officials have been given a June 14 deadline by the buyer to approve the Angel Stadium sale – but if they move forward with the deal, they could face legal action from the state over an unresolved affordable housing dispute.

In a letter to the city late Friday, attorney Allen Abshez said Angels Baseball and stadium buyer SRB Management (formed by Angels owner Arte Moreno for the transaction) “have acted in good faith throughout their dealings with the city,” and SRB is ready to close the deal.

But the city also is locked in a dispute with state housing officials and Attorney General Rob Bonta over how and where affordable housing would be provided in connection with the stadium sale.

The city and state seemed like they would avoid litigation when they reached a settlement last month, but before an Orange County Superior Court judge could sign off, it came to light that Mayor Harry Sidhu – who was closely involved in crafting the stadium deal – was under federal investigation for alleged corruption.

On Monday, May 16, state officials raised concerns about the FBI’s allegations against Sidhu – that he sought to provide the Angels with confidential city information regarding the negotiations, in the hope of getting $1 million in support for his reelection.

Sidhu has not been charged with a crime. The FBI affidavit notes the investigating agent has no evidence that Sidhu actually solicited campaign funding from the Angels.

The state was granted a 60-day stay of any court decision on the settlement with the city, which appeared to put the deal in limbo.

SRB Management and the Angels apparently don’t want to wait that long.

Abshez’s letter says the deal approved in September 2020, to sell the 150-acre stadium property for $320 million, “was the result of an honest arms-length negotiations with city staff and its advisors, and has been thoroughly analyzed and debated.”

He concluded, “SRB has met all its obligations and has every expectation that this transaction should move forward, and looks forward to the council’s final action no later than June 14, 2022.”

The City Council was already scheduled to meet Tuesday to consider its options.

Councilman Trevor O’Neil has publicly said he doesn’t support going ahead with the deal. Other council members also have “expressed initial reservations,” city spokesman Mike Lyster said in a statement Saturday.

The city received Abshez’s letter and is evaluating it, he said.

Sidhu’s alleged actions regarding the stadium deal fall outside the good-faith, public process the city followed, Lyster said, but they still raise “questions, concerns and complications.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Former CEO of Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Facing Criminal Charges

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

Former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament appeared in court Tuesday facing federal charges of lying about his assets when purchasing a home in Big Bear City, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Ament was charged Monday with making false statements to a financial institution in late 2020 when seeking a loan to buy the second home, according to a press release issued Tuesday.

The announcement comes the day after news broke that Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu is under investigation for alleged fraud, bribery, obstruction of justice and witness tampering in connection with the city’s deal to sell Angel Stadium to Angels owner Arte Moreno’s business partnership.

Since his election in 2018, Sidhu worked closely with Ament and the chamber, including teaming up on the “Anaheim First” initiative that was intended to create a 10-year city improvement program based on residents’ input. The program was stalled by the pandemic, but Sidhu recently sought to revive it.

At the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, where Ament arrived in handcuffs for a first appearance hearing Tuesday afternoon, the attorney representing him, Sal Ciulla, declined to comment on the case or say what, if any, connection it may have to the federal investigation into Sidhu.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Lim, who is among the lawyers prosecuting the case against Ament, also said after Tuesday’s hearing he couldn’t comment on whether the Anaheim probes were related because of the ongoing investigation. He added that, “I think the affidavits for complaint and the search warrants speak for themselves.”

The events described in the affidavits took place in similar time frames and the Ament affidavit mentions multiple unnamed Anaheim elected officials.

An affidavit filed in federal court May 12, in support of search warrants requested in the Sidhu probe, includes references to an FBI investigation that led to a cooperating witness who was an employee of the Anaheim chamber. Names throughout the affidavit were redacted, except in one section transcribing a taped conversation between Sidhu and the cooperating witness, when Sidhu addresses the person as Todd.

Current chamber CEO Laura Cunningham said in an emailed statement late Tuesday, “We at the chamber are shocked by the public allegations about former President and CEO Todd Ament, who separated from the chamber last year. We feel saddened and angered by these disturbing allegations and will cooperate with any law enforcement inquiries.”

To help with financing the Big Bear home, the affidavit supporting the charge alleges that Ament, with the help of an unnamed political consultant at a prominent public relations firm, “devised a scheme to launder proceeds intended for the chamber through the PR firm into Ament’s bank account,” the press release said.

The affidavit in support of the charges against Ament also alleges he was:

  • Working with the political consultant to defraud a cannabis business client by claiming they could offer influence over a potential cannabis ordinance, and diverting the client’s money to Ament’s personal bank account.
  • Acting as a “ring leader,” along with the consultant, of “a specific, covert group of individuals that wielded significant influence over the inner workings of Anaheim’s government.”
  • Working with the political consultant to prepare scripted comments for an unnamed Anaheim city official to deliver at council meetings.

The FBI obtained the information described in the affidavit from sources including intercepted and recorded phone calls, interviews with several witnesses, and bank and other financial records, according to the document.

The affidavit also describes how Ament and the consultant allegedly led “a small group of Anaheim public officials, consultants and business leaders” that Ament and the consultant referred to as a “family” and a “cabal” that held regular meetings to “exert influence over government operations in Anaheim,” the Department of Justice’s press release said.

To illustrate that allegation, the affidavit details a November 2020 phone conversation the FBI listened in on, in which Ament and the political consultant discussed which Anaheim City Council members could be trusted, who should be invited to a retreat to strategize on city issues, and who might need to be reminded to “be a loyal member of the team” because they’d gotten help with their reelection.

The document also gives a lengthy description of the alleged cannabis scheme, which entailed receiving payment from an unnamed cannabis industry client to lobby the city to approve retail sales of cannabis and have influence over creation of the regulations for pot shops. However, the affidavit alleges, Ament and the political consultant actually appear to have worked against the client’s interest by secretly working with an industry competitor and then slowing progress of the issue at City Hall.

Although several Anaheim elected officials and at least one city employee are mentioned, the names of those people are all redacted from the affidavit.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Local Corruption Plagues Los Angeles County

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

California doesn’t have nearly the reputation of, say, New Jersey or Maryland when it comes to a history of public corruption. Studies that measure corruption with metrics tend to give most corrupt honors to less populated, poorer southern states like Louisiana and Mississippi or big, relatively wealthy Midwest and Eastern states like Illinois and Pennsylvania.

But when it comes to the most corrupt counties, few if any can top the recent run that Los Angeles County is on — specifically, the cities and agencies in south and central L.A. County.

The latest example came last week when Luis Aguinaga resigned as mayor of South El Monte after admitting to taking bribes for seven years from a contractor paid by the city for engineering and construction services.

A Nexis search of stories by the Southern California News Group, the Los Angeles Times and Southern California Public Radio shows Aguinaga has plenty of corrupt company in neighboring communities.


In 2010, a  Los Angeles Times investigation found that the city was being run like a criminal enterprise to the benefit of city officials and City Council members who received huge salaries and relied on illegal taxes and deceptive accounting. Former City Manager Robert Rizzo was found guilty of 69 corruption charges. Five City Council members also were convicted over city schemes.


Mayor Al Robles is now under siege from Los Angeles County prosecutors for simultaneously serving on the board of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California and as Carson mayor. He faced a county grand jury rebuke over the water board’s move to pay his legal bills. He has also faced years of campaign finance allegations over his water board and Carson election campaigns.

Central Basin Municipal Water District

Political and legal fallout continues from a scandal involving an alleged $2.75 million slush fund created by the district to pay politically connected consultants such as former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, D-Montebello. Central Basin board member Art Chacon was allowed to collect car allowance and mileage reimbursements from the district from 2006 to 2014, an eight-year span in which he didn’t have a driver’s license. To avoid a potentially huge payout at trial, in 2014, the district settled sexual harassment allegations made by a female contractor against district Director Robert Apodaca for $670,000.

City of Commerce

In 2012, Councilman Robert Fierro resigned after he pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge related to his attempts to dupe investigators looking into the financing of his 2005 campaign. In 2010, Councilman Hugo Argumedo resigned after he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Argumedo concocted evidence to help an attorney sue his city for allegedly unpaid legal fees.


In 2012, City Manager Angel Perales, Mayor David Silva and Councilman Osvaldo Conde were arrested by the FBI after being caught seeking bribes from the owner of a marijuana dispensary. In 2014, then-state Controller John Chiang released a scathing report about city finances that found city credit cards were used improperly for meals, travel and entertainment; pay raises were awarded without explanation or justification; and that employees regularly received paid leave that they were not entitled to get.


In 2012, former City Council members Louis Byrd and Fernando Pedroza were convicted of illegally boosting their pay — by $330,000 and $160,000, respectively — by taking stipends for working on city commissions without any responsibilities, a crime with parallels to what happened in Bell. There were also reports that city officials used city credit cards to pay for entertainment, including “a $1,500 night out at a Guadalajara strip club, where dancers allegedly performed sexual favors” for two city officials, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 2007, Mayor Paul H. Richards II received a 16-year sentence for a long-running embezzlement scheme.


County prosecutor are now investigating alleged illegal collusion to get around state open-government laws that may be related to questionable zoning changes made without proper scrutiny. There are also reports that the FBI is investigating possible bribery in the awarding of city contracts.


In 2011, state Controller John Chiang issued a report showing that officials had improperly spent more than $31 million, helping prompt a city budget crisis. Redevelopment funds were used for many non-government purposes, including meals in Las Vegas.

South Gate

Former city councilman, city manager, mayor and treasurer Albert Robles was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2005 for public corruption, money laundering and bribery. Though several of the convictions were thrown out in 2013, Robles’ sentence was not reduced because of the seriousness of the bribery counts that remained.


The tax-rich industrial city which long controlled who voted in the city by controlling who stayed in its very limited housing was nearly disbanded by the Legislature in 2011 after Donal O’Callaghan became the third city administrator since 2006 to face criminal charges. Mayor Leonis Malburg and his wife Dominica were convicted of voter fraud and conspiracy in 2009. The Malburgs lied for years about living in Vernon while actually residing at a Hancock Park mansion.

This piece was originally published by

Conflict laws must be stronger for California politicians

As reported by the Los Angeles Daily News:

Aren’t there people in your immediate family other than your spouse or partner whose financial well-being you have an extraordinary interest in?

Of course there are — especially when they are your children, including your adult children who are out on their own in the world. It makes little to no difference that any money they make, unlike a spouse’s income, is not part of your own community property, doesn’t bolster your own bank account. The fact is that of course you want them to do well. You raised them, after all. Who wouldn’t want them to succeed?

That’s precisely why it’s important to ensure that those we choose to be our political leaders, whether by election or appointment, are never put in the position of being able to put their own children’s or other close relative’s monetary interests over people with whom they are not related. No one — not even a politician — can be blamed for choosing to do so. So it’s only common sense to remove even the temptation to do so …

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