On Monday, Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a motion in the Orange County Superior Court asking to put the $320 million sale of Anaheim Stadium and the surrounding parking lots from the City of Anaheim to the team on hold due to an FBI affidavit also filed Monday looking into accusations that Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu made the deal with the team for a large $1 million campaign contribution.
The controversy dates back to the late 2010’s. In late 2019, The City of Anaheim agreed to sell Angel Stadium and the surrounding parking lots to Los Angeles Angels owner Art Moreno for $320 million. However, finalization plagued the process in the ensuing years. Lawsuits and complaints about the deal, which would add housing in the current parking areas surrounding the stadium and other improvements, sprang up, including:
• The California Department of Housing and Community Development finding Anaheim in violation of the Surplus Land Act
• The number of affordable units being placed near the Stadium going down by 80% in newer plans
• The Angeles only paying $150 million for the stadium property
• Accusations that Mayor Sidhu received a massive campaign contribution in exchange for the sale
• Traffic concerns, parking concerns, and other issues
While legal settlements last month were widely seen as the end to the drama and the green light to start development soon around the Stadium, investigations by the FBI into the deal, in particular the accusations made against Mayor Sidhu, quickly put those plans on notice. According to the FBI, they found evidence that Sidhu attempted to obstruct an Orange County Grand Jury, shared confidential information about the sale to get a large campaign donation, and actively solicited campaign contributions for the deal.
“I believe Sidhu illustrated his intent to solicit campaign contributions, in the amount of $1,000,000 in exchange for performing official acts intended to finalize the stadium sale for the Angels,” wrote FBI special agent Brian Atkins in the affidavit. “I found that the probable cause to believe that Sidhu shared confidential information about sale negotiations with the Angels, as the city was negotiating against the team, with the expectation of receiving a sizable contribution to his reelection campaign from a prominent Angels representative.”
“Sidhu has attempted to obstruct an Orange County grand jury inquiry into the Angel Stadium deal. I believe there is probable cause as Sidhu may have engaged in criminal offenses including fraud, theft or bribery, making false statements, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.”
Backing up the FBI’s assertions in the affidavit are numerous pieces of evidence. In a released FBI-recorded phone call, Sidhu is heard to have said “We’ll push them at least to have a million dollars. You know, for an Angels official to say ‘no’ is bad.”
A possible end for the Anaheim Stadium deal
With the push by both AG Bonta and the FBI, the sale of the stadium is now in doubt. Anaheim lawmakers, such as Jose Moreno, have come out saying that Arte Moreno and Sidhu conspired in an illegal land deal for the benefit of themselves while both the city and team have said that that they are waiting and seeing about the upcoming deal.
“We will determine what this means for the stadium plan in the days ahead,” said Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster in a statement.
“It would be inappropriate to comment at this time,” added Marie Garvey, a spokeswoman for Arte Moreno’s company, on Tuesday.
Legal experts note that even if Sidhu is cleared it could spell disaster for the deal.
“Anaheim Stadium is likely going to be surrounded by parking for years to come now,” said Florida lawyer Scott Bishop, who has been a part of lawsuits involving stadiums in 4 states, to the Globe on Tuesday. “If it’s found to be true, the deal is off. But even if they manage to come out with nothing sticking, the people or lawmakers there may decide to bring up more legal challenges over this and stop it. Here in Miami, we had a really faulty deal for a new stadium that I can honestly talk for hours about, but in the end the owner, well, former owner, had to pay through the nose because of all the shiftiness around it. I can get more into it legally, but I don’t want to be here all night.”
“For Anaheim, best case scenario, the deal goes through but there will be more lawsuit, possible fines, and the reputations of everyone will be tarnished forever because of how it went down. It’s not a great scenario where Anaheim and the Angeles are.”
More updates about if the stadium deal will still go through are expected soon.