Anaheimgate: Inside a corruption scandal

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, May 23. I’m Justin Ray.

“The whole thing sounds like a B-grade Martin Scorsese gangster flick,” writes Gustavo Arellano.

The city of Anaheim is best known for Disneyland Resort, Major League Baseball’s Angels and the National Hockey League’s Ducks. But a recent corruption scandal has cast a cloud over the city of 350,000 and offered the public a rare look at how some powerful people conduct business behind closed doors.

There are many salacious details about the case being investigated by the FBI. But I’m going to go through the basics.

The allegations

The former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce has been charged as part of the snowballing political corruption scandal, federal authorities announced last week.

The FBI accused Todd Ament of conspiring with an unnamed political consultant to send chamber money to Ament’s personal bank accounts by laundering it through the consultant’s public relations firm. Ament’s attorney did not return a previous call from The Times for comment.

The FBI is also investigating Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu for suspected bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

According to a court filing, Sidhu is believed to have shared confidential information with representatives of the Angels baseball team about the city’s sale of Angel Stadium in return for a large donation to his reelection campaign. The state attorney general has asked a court to put the $320-million sale on hold.

The mayor’s attorney, Paul Meyers, has not commented on the case. Sidhu, a Republican elected as mayor in 2018, is up for reelection in November.

An affidavit released by the FBI claims that Ament and the unnamed political consultant led a group of Anaheim public officials, consultants and business leaders. They met at hotel suite “retreats” to exert influence over Anaheim’s government, according to the FBI. Ament and the political consultant described the group as a “family” or “cabal.”

More allegations and charges are expected in the coming weeks.

Further reading:

California Democratic Party leader steps down amid Angel Stadium probe. “The controversy over my role is now a hindrance,” state party secretary Melahat Rafiei wrote in a letter. Rafiei, who has been accused of trying to bribe public officials in a mushrooming federal corruption probe, is also leaving her post as a member of the Democratic National Committee. She did not respond Sunday to a request for comment, but acknowledged in the letter that she was a confidential witness in the FBI probe of the proposed $320-million sale of Angel Stadium land. Fontana News Room

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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A child star at 7, in prison at 22. Then she vanished. What happened to Lora Lee Michel? A child actress in the 1940s, Lora Lee at 7 was billed as a “sensation” with “the greatest appeal since Shirley Temple.” She appeared in more than a dozen films, sharing the screen with Humphrey Bogart, Glenn Ford and Olivia de Havilland. But Lora Lee was a shooting star — one that would quickly crash-land. Fontana News Room

Child star Lora Lee Michel’s offscreen life was more dramatic than any of her movies.

(Illustration by Jim Cooke / Fontana News Room; Photos from Wright family, Columbia Pictures, Times Archive)

Commentary: How Ellen DeGeneres won, and then lost, a generation of viewers. The comedian became perhaps the most famous LGBTQ person in America. But her reign as TV’s beloved talk show host would come to a dramatic end. Although reports about a toxic workplace culture on the set of the show would be her downfall, deputy editor for entertainment and arts Matt Brennan explains how incidents like Kevin Hart’s appearance in January 2019 showed that DeGeneres was “out of touch” before the scandal made headlines. Fontana News Room

Ellen DeGeneres wearing a gray suit against a blue background

“When Ellen DeGeneres launched her daytime talk show, it felt like a flag planted on lunar terrain,” writes deputy editor for entertainment and arts Matt Brennan.

(NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

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The Social Security Administration releases a list of each state’s top baby names. In California, the top 5 names for girls in 2021 were Olivia, Emma, Camila, Mia and Sophia. For boys, the top names were Noah, Liam, Mateo, Sebastian and Julian. Social Security Administration

Many undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for federal and state programs and initiatives that helped support displaced American workers during COVID’s grim first year. This lack of support is consequential. According to a UC Merced study, “undocumented workers fill about one in 16 jobs in California and contribute $3.7 billion per year in state and local taxes, along with $7 billion per year in federal taxes,” writes Mark Kreidler. Capital and Main


Nine people were shot, one of them fatally, outside a party in San Bernardino County late Friday, police said. There was no word on a suspect as of Saturday morning, and no arrests had been made. Preliminary information indicated that the victims were not intentionally targeted, and that the shooting might have stemmed from a conflict in a crowded room at the party, a spokesman for the San Bernardino Police Department said. Fontana News Room

“Anchored Out” documentary captures conflict between the Bay Area’s wealthy and a motley crew that lives on boats. Richardson Bay is an estuary located north of the Golden Gate Bridge. As The Times reported last November, a group of people have been living illegally, rent-free on boats there. Local homeowners want them gone. A new documentary explains how the wealthy are trying to evict the ragtag community living on the open water. New Yorker

How can we protect our kids from racism? Author Ibram X. Kendi has this advice. Columnist Anita Chabria talked to the “How to Raise an Antiracist” author about the massacre in Buffalo. “There’s so many white children who are being indoctrinated into racist ideas and then hurting other people, killing other people, when they come of age as adults — just as you have many children of color who are thinking that there’s something wrong with themselves, or are the victims of those who believe in racist ideas,” Kendi said. Fontana News Room


A man who was convicted of setting a wildfire in Big Sur that burned 125,000 acres, seriously injured a firefighter and killed 12 endangered California condors was sentenced to 24 years in state prison. Ivan Gomez, 31, was found guilty last month of setting the 2020 Dolan fire, cultivating marijuana in the Los Padres National Forest and 12 counts of animal cruelty tied to the condor deaths. Fontana News Room


L.A.-based restaurants are expanding to Saudi Arabia. “The list of restaurants opening locations and doing pop-ups in the Middle East includes fine dining establishments such as Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and Chi Spacca, an Italian-inspired collaboration between restaurateurs Joe Bastianich and Nancy Silverton, Michelin-starred Petit Trois and their sister restaurant, Jon & Vinny’s,” Lexis-Olivier Ray reports. L.A. Taco

A nonprofit called Reparation Generation, with roots in Berkeley and Detroit, has been making $25,000 “reparative transfers” to help people in Detroit buy homes. No strings were attached, as the money is intended to repair damage done to Black people in the U.S. by centuries of slavery, violence and economic discrimination. Berkeleyside

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Los Angeles: Overcast 74 San Diego: Overcast 65 San Francisco: Sunny 69 San Jose: Sunny 84 Fresno: Overcast 95 Sacramento: Overcast 96. I can’t stop watching this video.


Today’s California memory is from Jeannette Baesel:

My sister and I grew up in Mid-City, in the 1970s. My fondest memory is driving to the Santa Monica Pier on Sundays, in my Dad’s convertible Mustang. Impatiently, I would look for the McClure Tunnel, the entrance to paradise. We would order a bag of hot fresh potato chips from the small snack vendor. We played carnival games and we always ended our outing at the ceramics shop. They had a million unpainted ceramic pieces on wooden shelves. My sister and I would spend an eternity looking for the right piece to take home. It was a magical time.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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