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    By Pasquale Talarico

    Former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament appeared in court Tuesday facing federal charges of lying about his assets when purchasing a home in Big Bear City, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

    Ament was charged Monday with making false statements to a financial institution in late 2020 when seeking a loan to buy the second home, according to a press release issued Tuesday.

    Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament

    The announcement comes the day after news broke that Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu is under investigation for alleged fraud, bribery, obstruction of justice and witness tampering in connection with the city’s deal to sell Angel Stadium to Angels owner Arte Moreno’s business partnership.

    Since his election in 2018, Sidhu worked closely with Ament and the chamber, including teaming up on the “Anaheim First” initiative that was intended to create a 10-year city improvement program based on residents’ input. The program was stalled by the pandemic, but Sidhu recently sought to revive it.

    At the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, where Ament arrived in handcuffs for a first appearance hearing Tuesday afternoon, the attorney representing him, Sal Ciulla, declined to comment on the case or say what, if any, connection it may have to the federal investigation into Sidhu.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Lim, who is among the lawyers prosecuting the case against Ament, also said after Tuesday’s hearing he couldn’t comment on whether the Anaheim probes were related because of the ongoing investigation. He added that, “I think the affidavits for complaint and the search warrants speak for themselves.”

    The events described in the affidavits took place in similar time frames and the Ament affidavit mentions multiple unnamed Anaheim elected officials.

    An affidavit filed in federal court May 12, in support of search warrants requested in the Sidhu probe, includes references to an FBI investigation that led to a cooperating witness who was an employee of the Anaheim chamber. Names throughout the affidavit were redacted, except in one section transcribing a taped conversation between Sidhu and the cooperating witness, when Sidhu addresses the person as Todd.

    Current chamber CEO Laura Cunningham said in an emailed statement late Tuesday, “We at the chamber are shocked by the public allegations about former President and CEO Todd Ament, who separated from the chamber last year. We feel saddened and angered by these disturbing allegations and will cooperate with any law enforcement inquiries.”

    To help with financing the Big Bear home, the affidavit supporting the charge alleges that Ament, with the help of an unnamed political consultant at a prominent public relations firm, “devised a scheme to launder proceeds intended for the chamber through the PR firm into Ament’s bank account,” the press release said.

    The affidavit in support of the charges against Ament also alleges he was:

    • Working with the political consultant to defraud a cannabis business client by claiming they could offer influence over a potential cannabis ordinance, and diverting the client’s money to Ament’s personal bank account.
    • Acting as a “ring leader,” along with the consultant, of “a specific, covert group of individuals that wielded significant influence over the inner workings of Anaheim’s government.”
    • Working with the political consultant to prepare scripted comments for an unnamed Anaheim city official to deliver at council meetings.

    The FBI obtained the information described in the affidavit from sources including intercepted and recorded phone calls, interviews with several witnesses, and bank and other financial records, according to the document.

    The affidavit also describes how Ament and the consultant allegedly led “a small group of Anaheim public officials, consultants and business leaders” that Ament and the consultant referred to as a “family” and a “cabal” that held regular meetings to “exert influence over government operations in Anaheim,” the Department of Justice’s press release said.

    To illustrate that allegation, the affidavit details a November 2020 phone conversation the FBI listened in on, in which Ament and the political consultant discussed which Anaheim City Council members could be trusted, who should be invited to a retreat to strategize on city issues, and who might need to be reminded to “be a loyal member of the team” because they’d gotten help with their reelection.

    The document also gives a lengthy description of the alleged cannabis scheme, which entailed receiving payment from an unnamed cannabis industry client to lobby the city to approve retail sales of cannabis and have influence over creation of the regulations for pot shops. However, the affidavit alleges, Ament and the political consultant actually appear to have worked against the client’s interest by secretly working with an industry competitor and then slowing progress of the issue at City Hall.

    Although several Anaheim elected officials and at least one city employee are mentioned, the names of those people are all redacted from the affidavit.

    Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

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