Ex-Anaheim mayor refuses to reveal emails amid scandal

Embattled former Anaheim mayor Harry Sidhu has refused to publicly disclose emails and textual content messages from private accounts he used to conduct metropolis enterprise, calling into query how completely a city-commissioned investigation can probe a corruption scandal tied to the aborted sale of Angel Stadium and a self-described “cabal” that allegedly steered metropolis politics.

In emails obtained by The Occasions, Sidhu’s legal protection legal professional claimed the previous mayor’s previous communications about metropolis enterprise on personal gadgets had been not public as a result of he has resigned and invoked his consumer’s fifth Modification proper towards self-incrimination.

Public data specialists say the refusal flouts California regulation, leaves a important hole in public understanding of behind-the-scenes actions that upended the political institution of Orange County’s most populous metropolis, and will encourage different authorities officers to make use of personal accounts to conduct official enterprise and keep away from public scrutiny.

“Just because Sidhu kept those records on his personal devices doesn’t make them his,” mentioned Paul Clifford, who has litigated public data instances on behalf of journalists as senior legal professional for the Oakland-based First Modification Undertaking. “They are, by law, public records that the government has the right to get back.

“It’s going to encourage public officials to go ahead and do business on their private emails, especially if they’re anticipating no longer being part of the government. That would create a disastrous situation for the public to know what its government is up to.”

Sidhu resigned in late Could after an FBI affidavit supporting a search warrant that focused him was unsealed. The affidavit, which detailed him utilizing private e-mail for metropolis enterprise, alleged there was possible trigger to consider he had dedicated sincere companies fraud, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and different crimes. Anaheim subsequently obtained a number of requests beneath California’s Public Data Act for emails and textual content messages Sidhu despatched or obtained whereas mayor. Although metropolis officers searched Sidhu’s work e-mail for responsive data, the regulation requires him to do the identical on private accounts.

However Sidhu’s legal professional, Paul Meyer, refused in a June 22 e-mail to Metropolis Atty. Robert Fabela.

“On the advice of counsel,” Meyer wrote, “despite the fact that we believe no federal or other criminal violations will ultimately be filed, or proved, against [Sidhu], under the established theory that the 5th Amendment was created for the protection of innocent persons ensnared in a criminal investigation, he asserts his 5th Amendment privilege against self incrimination to the city’s request that he produce emails and texts from his personal accounts.”

Karl Olson, a public data litigator at Cannata, O’Toole, Fickes & Olson in San Francisco, pointed to a California appellate court docket ruling in 2007 that particularly cited “corruption” as a purpose the general public has the fitting to entry authorities data. A decade later, in 2017, the California Supreme Courtroom dominated that communications by public officers on personal accounts are disclosable public data.

“What [Meyer] is saying is the more crooked you are, the less right the public has to know how crooked you are … and if that’s the law, that would just totally turn the Public Records Act on its head,” Olson mentioned.

Meyer mentioned Monday he had no additional touch upon the matter.

Anaheim hasn’t obtained any data from Sidhu’s private accounts for the reason that FBI probe turned public, mentioned metropolis spokesman Mike Lyster, and isn’t conscious if any responsive data exist on them.

“We are in a unique situation and will continue to evaluate the matter,” Lyster mentioned. He added: “Beyond an exchange of letters … the city has not taken legal action. It is our understanding a federal investigation is ongoing and we have not made any determination at this time.”

Sidhu has not been charged with any crime and, by means of Meyer, has maintained his innocence.

The affidavit by FBI particular agent Brian Adkins sought permission to assessment data from Sidhu’s private e-mail and cellphone. It cited an e-mail Sidhu despatched from the account to political guide Jeff Flint — who represented the Angels — and then-Anaheim Chamber of Commerce president Todd Ament in July 2020 “in an effort to assist the Angels” throughout negotiations for the town to promote Angel Stadium and surrounding parking heaps to the workforce.

Throughout a gathering in January, Sidhu assured Ament that emails between the three males wouldn’t make their strategy to an Orange County grand jury investigating the stadium deal. Ament — who later accepted a plea cut price for wire fraud, making false statements to a monetary establishment and submitting a false tax return — secretly recorded the dialog on the behest of the FBI.

Sidhu informed Ament the communications had been on his “private emails” and that he “erased everything,” in accordance with the affidavit.

In a footnote of the affidavit, Adkins wrote: “There may have been additional items related to the Target Offenses … that SIDHU may have overlooked and thus failed to delete, and therefore are still maintained in the SUBJECT ACCOUNT and on the SUBJECT PHONE.”

The Occasions obtained greater than 5,000 pages of data from Anaheim in response to public data requests within the months for the reason that affidavit turned public. There isn’t a single e-mail or textual content message despatched by Sidhu amongst them, although quite a few emails are CC’d to his private account.

In a single request filed in late Could, The Occasions sought emails or textual content messages that Sidhu or his chief of workers despatched or obtained concerning an episode detailed in a second affidavit concentrating on Ament. The FBI alleged Flint wrote a script that Sidhu learn throughout a Metropolis Council assembly in March 2021. A number of drafts had been despatched to Sidhu’s assistant, the affidavit mentioned.

“Despite a diligent search,” the town responded, “the city is unable to locate records that fall within the scope of your request.”

The response added that the search efforts had been persevering with, although no responsive data have been produced.

Three days later, Fabela emailed Meyer.

After the town legal professional requested Sidhu search his private accounts, Meyer mentioned he wanted to assessment “all such materials that are already in possession of the city.” Fabela mentioned they may present Meyer with data from the previous mayor’s metropolis e-mail account, “but I don’t understand how that impacts Mr. Sidhu’s obligations to search his personal devices and accounts.” Anaheim finally gave Meyer 1000’s of pages of paperwork the town compiled in response to public data requests for data associated to key gamers within the probe like Ament and Flint.

In August, the Anaheim Metropolis Council voted to retain JL Group, a Laguna Niguel-based investigative agency, to probe the scandal. The work is estimated to take six months and value $500,000 to $750,000.

The corporate, which declined to touch upon specifics of the investigation, is analyzing whether or not Sidhu or Metropolis Council members directed metropolis “business and/or activities based on campaign contributions,” metropolis staffers had been concerned in “illegal and/or unethical behaviors in the context of the Federal investigations,” and metropolis officers engaged in “communications/meetings” that violated the state’s open conferences regulation.

In a written replace to the Anaheim Metropolis Council earlier than Tuesday’s assembly, retired Orange County Superior Courtroom Choose Clay Smith, who’s overseeing the town’s inquiry, mentioned it’s within the “early stages” as investigators have began interviewing related people and are “actively working to identify documents which should be analyzed.” Smith wasn’t obtainable for remark, in accordance with his case supervisor.

James Wedick, a retired FBI particular agent who spent a long time investigating public corruption and consults on white-collar legal inquires, believes Anaheim must receive Sidhu’s communications as shortly as potential if the investigation might be credible. He described any emails despatched from Sidhu’s private account as a “crucial link.”

“You’ve got plenty of information to go get those records,” Wedick mentioned.