Corruption in Anaheim:

The FBI Uncovers Who's Running the City

By Carolina London
Published: July 6th, 2022
Revised: July 10th, 2022


Sleeping Beauty Castle in Anaheim (Source: Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sleeping Beauty Castle in Anaheim (Source: Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)

This report is multifaceted and is primarily based on FBI Agent Brian C. Adkins’ Affidavit that was filed on May 16, 2022, with the United States District Court for the Central California Division in support of criminal charges against Todd Ament.
The story of corruption is not new. It is a tale as old as time, with a song that is perhaps as old as rhyme. This true story is about white-collar crime. This is the type of crime you don’t see with your naked eye. The kind that requires the FBI to step in. Unknown to most Americans is the fact that white-collar crime has been increasing for the last ten years and even more so in the last two years. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission announced that they received 2.8 million fraud reports in 2021, which resulted in an increase of reported fraud losses by 70 percent from 2020 to 2021. Even more jarring is a HuffPost report stating that “In January (of) 2019, white-collar prosecutions fell to their lowest level since researchers started tracking them in 1998. Even within the dwindling number of prosecutions, most are cases against low-level con artists and small-fry financial schemes”. It is clear that white-collar crime, which includes various types of fraud, bribery, and money laundering, is on the rise yet there is little being done to stop it, particularly amongst the powerful and wealthy.
So how did bribery, money laundering, and political control take hold within two cities in Southern California? This true story is pieced together by FBI Agent Brain C. Adkins, who filed an affidavit in support of a federal arrest warrant that was issued for Todd Ament, the now former CEO and president of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. But hold on, the corruption trail actually begins in the City of Irvine, where in 2018 the FBI began exposing a bribery scheme that was devised by a “cannabis consultant”. The consultant planned to bribe two Irvine City Council members who would then take action to help pass laws that would be favorable to the cannabis industry in Irvine. The cannabis consultant was hired by Terra Tech leaders who tipped off the FBI about the cannabis consultant’s intent to bribe and partake in corruption as “they were motivated by patriotism and wish(ed) to minimize corrupt public officials in the United States”. After tipping off the FBI, the two leaders of Terra Tech began operating under the direction of the FBI as Confidential Human Sources (CHS), otherwise known as informants. Now, the cannabis consultant in the above noted “Irvine Bribery Scheme” was identified as Melahat Rafiei by the OCRegister. Rafiei is the co-founder and Director of Government Relations at WeCann, a cannabis consulting firm located in Santa Ana, CA. Rafiei was also a representative for the National Democratic Committee and the secretary for the California Democratic Party. She is also the owner of a political consulting firm called Progressive Solutions Consulting. Ironically, her behaviors and intent weren’t very progressive but more regressive, as described within the affidavit. This report is even more shocking when you consider Rafiei’s close ties to the Democrat Party in California and the potential she had to bring a wave of corruption. Questions still remain. What made Rafiei believe she was above the democratic process? Why did she feel so confident about her bribery plan? How can someone so corrupt be so closely involved with politics and business? How many victims are there and in what ways have they been victimized by her corruption and greed? Well, not too long after the bribery scheme was discovered, Rafiei was arrested on October 28, 2019, by the FBI. On the same day of her arrest, she agreed to work with the FBI as a Confidential Witness (CW). Rafiei’s charges, described as “theft or bribery," were dismissed without prejudice. Rafiei then became the primary cooperating witness for the FBI in the corruption investigation that focused on the now former Mayor of Anaheim, Harry Sidhu, which led to federal charges and the arrest of Todd Ament.
Remember him? Well, Ament comes into play in 2019 when he begins soliciting money from Rafiei, an associate of Rafiei, and Rafiei’s client, known as “the cannabis client” in Agent Adkins's affidavit. Keep in mind that Rafiei is not working for the FBI at this time. Agent Adkins is investigating Rafiei and has her phone tapped, and this is how Ament gets on the FBI’s radar. Agent Adkins’ investigation revealed that Ament wasn’t working alone. Adkins’ affidavit mentions an unnamed political consultant and describes the consultant as “a principal partner of a nationally known political and public affairs firm." The Los Angeles Times reported that the unnamed political consultant is speculated to be Jeff Flint, the senior partner, and CEO of Core Strategic Group whose clients include Arte Moreno, the owner of Major League Baseball’s Angels, and the Disneyland Resort. Adkins reports that the political consultant and Ament solicited money with the intent to defraud the cannabis client as well as Rafiei and Rafiei’s associate. On top of all this, Rafiei is recorded by the FBI telling the cannabis client that if they pay $200,000 to $300,000 they can get insider information on the cannabis industry to guarantee success for their cannabis businesses in Anaheim. Ament and the political consultant fooled Rafiei, her associate, and the cannabis client into believing that the money received would go towards helping them with their cannabis business. This, of course, was far from the truth. Ament and the political consultant received $225,000 from the cannabis client in exchange for influence and access to what Ament and the political consultant coined the “Task Force” in the City of Anaheim. This Task Force was supposed to help make the cannabis business friendlier. The truth was that neither Ament nor the political consultant had any influence over the drafting of any cannabis ordinance and there was no Task Force at all. Rafiei later told the FBI that it was an illusion that Ament and the political consultant had created and later both Ament and the political consultant misrepresented the allocation of those funds to the cannabis client and Rafiei. Instead, Ament and the political consultant embezzled the money out of the chamber of commerce into what Agent Adkins describes as “Firm A”. Firm A is described as being the firm that is under the operation of the political consultant. Ament had the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce pay Firm A for political consulting, supposedly for the non-existent Task Force on cannabis, and then Firm A paid Ament directly through checks and wire transfers. For example, Agent Adkins describes how the cannabis client deposited $85,000 on July 17, 2019, to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce bank account, and one day later on July 18, 2019, the chamber wrote a check to Firm A for $20,000, the memo of the check read “research & consulting on cannabis”. That same day, July 18, Firm A wrote a check to Ament for $16,000, the memo on that check read “TA Consulting”. This is how they funneled the money into Ament’s personal bank account using checks and wire transfers in various amounts that never matched the full amount deposited into Firm A from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.
So what happened to all that money? Well, it isn’t quite clear where all of it has gone but the FBI uncovered a mortgage fraud scheme that was cooked up by the political consultant and Ament. The plan was to embezzle money from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to help Ament qualify for a second home. At the end of 2020, Ament applied for a mortgage loan to purchase a $1.5 million home located in Big Bear, California. As it turns out, applying for a mortgage loan is no joke. Mortgage loan applicants must show that they have enough cash in the bank to pay for a down payment as well as closing costs before a lender will approve a loan for a potential borrower. A lender will also need to verify income to ensure the borrower can pay the monthly mortgage payment. Ament needed both. The plan was to have consistent deposits from Firm A into Ament’s bank account to fraud the lender into believing that his income was higher than what it actually was and also to deposit more cash into his bank account to pay for closing costs. Perhaps Ament and the political consultant weren’t aware that a federal mortgage fraud case can land you in jail for up to 30 years and result in fines, restitution, and probation as it is considered a felony offense. Ament and the political consultant went ahead with their scheme anyhow and they were successful. They embezzled a total of $205,000 from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce through Firm A, and Agent Adkins mentions in the affidavit that it is highly likely that the duo have made these types of moves in the past since both had extensive political and business connections in order to make this possible. How did Agent Adkins uncover this? From November 10, 2020, to December 9, 2020, the political consultant’s phone conversations were intercepted by the FBI. This is where the investigation takes a dark and strange turn that perhaps Agent Adkins may not have expected himself.
On November 23, 2020, the FBI monitoring agents intercepted a call at about 1:41 pm. It was an outgoing call from the political consultant’s phone to Ament. During this conversation, Ament and the political consultant discussed what they called a “cabal” and “family”. They also discussed which Anaheim City Council members they could and couldn’t trust with the family, as well as which members to include at a “retreat” they were planning for the family. The transcripts in Adkins's affidavit reveal parts of this conversation where Ament references one of the Anaheim City Council members to the political consultant stating, “…if we go take him into the cabal and he’s playing double agent, then we are all screwed”. Ament continues on about another Anaheim City Council member telling the political consultant that “We’re part of the manipulation. I think it’s too early for [Elected Official 7] to get into this level of detail”. In another recorded conversation, this time in 2021, Adkins believes that “Company A employee” along with Ament and the political consultant drafted a script that was to be read on March 23, 2021, at an Anaheim City Council meeting by “Elected Official 1”. The transcripts in Agent Adkins's affidavit also included text messages between Ament and the political consultant, “[Elected Official 1] reads your script so poorly.” Political Consultant 1 replied, “Lol,” followed by, “He doesn’t practice”.
Shockingly, these conversations revealed to Agent Adkins and the FBI that Ament, the political consultant, and the Company A employee, who is suspected to be Carrie Nocella the now former Director of External Affairs of the Disneyland Resort, were all operating a secret group of powerful and influential people who had been freely dictating business and politics in the City of Anaheim. It also revealed that Ament and the political consultant manipulated poll numbers for S.O.A.R, Support Our Anaheim Resort, which is a political action committee that is backed by companies such as Disney. In fact, the LA Times reported that “… [SOAR] was founded in 2007 with financial backing from Disney in part to fight a housing development proposed near the company’s resort. By the end of the year, the developer’s plans, which included building low-cost apartments, had fallen through”. It doesn’t stop here.
According to the LA Times, Disney contributed more than $1.22 million in 2016 to 10 political action committees (PACs). S.O.A.R was one of those PACs, receiving $25,000. The LA Times also reported that in 2018 Disney spent $1.5 million on the Anaheim City Council races. The VoiceofOC reported that Disney contributed $635,000 to S.O.A.R. to help Harry Sidhu get elected as Mayor of Anaheim and Jordan Brandman and Trever O’Neil elected as Anaheim City Council members. The VoiceofOC report also states that an additional $304,160 was given to S.O.A.R. to help oppose Measure L in Anaheim which would have increased the city minimum wage. So what was the outcome of all these political contributions? Well, Measure L didn’t pass and Harry Sidhu was elected as the Mayor of Anaheim and Trever O’Neil was elected as a member of the Anaheim City Council in 2019. O’Neil is also the mayor pro tem, which means he takes over as mayor should the mayor step down.
Fast forward to May 17, 2022, when another affidavit is filed by Agent Adkins in support of a federal search warrant that targeted the Mayor of Anaheim, Harry Sidhu. If this story of corruption wasn’t bad enough, the filing reveals that “…the FBI learned that the City of Anaheim was tightly controlled by a small cadre of individuals, to include SIDHU…”. This is the Anaheim cabal and as it turns out Sidhu was a part of this family. The filing also revealed that “SIDHU Shared Privileged and Confidential Information with the Angels During Stadium Sale Negotiations, Actively Concealed Same from a Grand Jury Inquiry, and Expects to Receive Campaign Contributions as a Result”. The validity of the sale of the Angels Stadium is in question and it appears that the Brown Act, the Surplus Land Act, and Government Code Sections 1090 and 1092, prohibit elected officials from having a personal financial interest in contracts they enter in their official capacity may have been violated. Not surprisingly, seven days later on May 24, 2022, Harry Sidhu resigned as the Mayor of Anaheim as it was revealed that he was being investigated by the FBI. Todd Ament was arrested in mid-May. Ament pleaded guilty to several counts of fraud and accepted a plea deal that was filed on July 9, 2022.

Although the story of political and business corruption isn’t new, especially to the residents of Anaheim, it is not a story that should be taken lightly or shrugged off as just another example of the decay within our society and country. If anything, this should be a wake-up call to us all that corruption occurs within all political parties and that it is individuals and in some cases groups of individuals, that are responsible for the decay and corruption. Not some boogie man political party. It is as simple as greed and requires that we follow the money. More importantly, the Anaheim cabal and the corruption within Anaheim would have never been uncovered had it not been for the two citizens at Terra Tech that decided to tip off the FBI. It was this tip in Irvine that led to the resignation of Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, the arrest of Todd Ament, the resignation of Melahat Rafiei as Secretary to the California Democratic Party and member of the DNC, and this investigation also resulted in the resignation of Carrie Nocella who was the Director of External Affairs at Disneyland Resort. In the end, the corruption is now exposed and hopefully, the light will disinfect and reverse the decay.