Anaheim City Council hires firm to investigate donations made to former mayor and councilmembers

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The Anaheim City Council agreed to hire an outside firm this week to investigate any questionable campaign contributions made to former Mayor Harry Sidhu or current councilmembers in the wake of a federal corruption probe tied to the proposed sale of Angel Stadium.

The council voted 5 to 0 Tuesday night to hire JL Group, an investigative firm based in Orange County, to conduct the review, which officials said could be completed in about six months. Councilman Jose Moreno abstained.

The city also hired retired Superior Court Judge Clay Smith to oversee the probe. The in-house investigation was prompted by a federal corruption probe that has resulted in the resignations of two prominent Orange County political leaders linked to the proposed sale of the baseball stadium.

In May, Sidhu announced that he was stepping down after being accused of bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering in an affidavit supporting a search warrant application earlier this month.

The FBI alleged in the search warrant affidavit that Sidhu gave Major League Baseball’s Angels confidential information on at least two occasions during the city’s negotiations with the team over the $320-million Angel Stadium sale — and hoped to get a million-dollar campaign donation from the team. The affidavit also accuses the mayor of obstructing an Orange County Grand Jury investigation into the deal.

Another prominent Orange County figure caught up in the probe, Melahat Rafiei, announced she was stepping down as a member of the Democratic National Committee and state party secretary as a result of the investigation.

Rafiei has identified herself as a confidential witness in the federal probe. She had been arrested in 2019 on suspicion of federal bribery, but the complaint was dismissed after she agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

Jeff Love, co-founder of JL Group, touted the firm’s roster of former law enforcement officers and their experience with complicated homicide and RICO cases.

“We probably have about 300 years of experience in our firm,” he said.

But it was the firm’s lack of ties to the city or officials that seemed to sway the City Council in choosing the JL Group over three other companies bidding to conduct the investigation.

“As we talked about what this may look like, it was clear from everybody here that we wanted to be able to have a completely impartial and uninfluenced investigation,” said Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O’Neil.

Councilmembers said they hoped the investigation would offer residents transparency, even as an ongoing federal investigation into corruption looms over the city.

The investigation had been expected to cost up to $2.5 million, per the city’s staff report. During Tuesday’s meeting, JL Group told the City Council it could complete the investigation at a cost of $500,000 to $750,000 within six months.

Moreno has been an outspoken critic about the relationships between city officials and influential and powerful business interests in the city, but decided to abstain after he said he discovered one of the partners vying for the contract had donated to his campaign years ago.

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