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We know that, inherently, deals for brand new stadiums that use taxpayer dollars and are constructed on lies about how much value they’ll bring to the community are shady affairs. Usually it’s the legal kind of shady, though, where a team can say whatever they want in their proposal to the city and then, in the vast majority of cases, the city’s governing bodies will vigorously nod along so as not to be the one responsible for losing team X to location Y over a few measly hundreds of millions of dollars that could have gone toward actual infrastructure or schools instead of some mustache-twirling robber baron.
Not so with the Angels’ current stadium machinations, though! It should be pointed out that it’s not Arte Moreno and the Angels who we’re pointing fingers at today, either. Apparently, the mayor of Anaheim, Harry Sidhu, is now being investigated by the FBI for public corruption, and a land deal with the Angels is part of that.
The city had agreed to sell Angel Stadium and the surrounding parking lots to the team owner in 2019, but the state housing agency had found the deal in violation of California affordable housing law.
Anaheim could have redone the deal. Instead, the city remained liable for a $96-million fine.
That, according to an FBI affidavit filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court, was because Sidhu wanted to see the deal through to solicit a campaign contribution from the Angels.
On Monday, the state attorney general asked a court to put the $320 million sale on hold. The court filing explained why: a detailed FBI affidavit showed Sidhu is under investigation for public corruption, and the attorney general said he does not yet know whether the facts uncovered in the investigation could make the sale illegal.
[FBI special agent Brian] Adkins also said Sidhu “has attempted to obstruct an Orange County grand jury inquiry into the Angel Stadium deal.” The agent also said he believed there was probable cause that Sidhu “may have engaged in criminal offenses,” including fraud, theft or bribery, making false statements, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
Shaikin notes that no one on the Angels’ side of things is being accused of or investigated for anything: all of this is falling on Sidhu, and also apparently Todd Ament, the CEO of Anaheim’s Chamber of Commerce whose first name wasn’t fully redacted from one of the transcripts, and is very likely to be the unnamed Anaheim official from the recorded conversations about the Angels giving the mayor campaign contributions in exchange for making the land deal happen that have the FBI investigating Sidhu in the first place.
As said, these kinds of deals always have some level of sketchiness about them that favors the teams. As Neil deMause explained back in 2020, the Angels were working on buying the land their stadium and parking lots are on for well below the price they should go at, for one:
The $500 million estimate for the value of the Angel Stadium property is for delivering it unencumbered by a baseball stadium, so unless you want to force the Angels out really it’s only worth the $325 million that Angels owner Arte Moreno agreed to. But no, that’s not how land value works: As we discussed here last December, the fact that Moreno is seeking a less-lucrative use of the land because he wants to keep the stadium on it (as does the city of Anaheim) doesn’t make it less valuable — if the land were for sale on the open market, he’d have to outbid rival developers who didn’t give a crap about baseball who’d be willing to pay around $500 million. So really Lyster is saying here “We’re giving Arte Moreno $175 million in free land to be sure Moreno wouldn’t have to choose between paying what the land would normally be worth or finding other land to buy for a stadium somewhere else,” which sounds a lot less defensible when you put it that way.
And now we see that Sidhu was not only working to get the Angels that kind of traditionally shady deal on said land, but was also willing to have the city of Anaheim eat a $96 million fine to make it happen — and, given the evidence the FBI has and is investigating further, it was all so Sidhu could get the Angels to contribute $1 million to his reelection campaign. A good way to quietly get $1 million you shouldn’t have is to very publicly work toward a sweetheart deal for a billionaire-owned sports team that’s been trying to get said deal for a decade, and then do so in a way that a nearly $100 million fine would be stacked on top of it. That surely won’t draw anyone’s attention, especially not that of the attorney general’s office.
Truly incredible stuff. The deal violated California’s affordable housing law, which is scummy enough on its own, but then Sidhu committed Anaheim to not only losing money they would have received had they opened up bidding on the land rather than working so closely with the Angels, but threw an extra $96 million in lost city funds on top of that to make it work. And all for a reelection campaign contribution. Sidhu probably wouldn’t even have needed the million for campaigning if he just like, I don’t know, told the Angels to shove it and used taxpayer dollars for things the taxpayers actually needed, but what do I know. I’m just a guy with a newsletter who enjoys when rich people and politicians are forced to eat shit.
Oh, and now there is a call for Sidhu to resign, and that call was applauded by the audience of Anaheim’s citizens at the most recent city council meeting, so it might not matter how stocked the campaign vault is, anyway. Like I said, truly incredible stuff.
What this means for the Angels is that the stadium deal is on hold, with a 60-day stay applied, but it’s unclear at this juncture if this version of the deal will go through. If not this one, surely there will be another. There are plenty of Harry Sidhus out there, you know, and some of them might even be intelligent enough to not be so obvious about their illicit back scratching.