Former CEO of Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Facing Criminal Charges

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

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.

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

Gov. Brown signs major bills – How will they affect you?


jerry-brown-signs-lawsSACRAMENTO – In his veto message of two bills that would have banned smoking at California state parks and beaches, Gov. Jerry Brown argued that there must be “some limit to the coercive power of government.” Nevertheless, in a sea of bill signings this week, the governor vastly expanded the power of government to dictate private workplace rules, along with a number of other measures that expand state regulatory prerogatives.

One of the more far-reaching bills, Senate Bill 63, mandates that companies with at least 20 employees provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers to care for a newborn or adopted child. Before the signing, state law required such leave for companies with 50 or more workers. The bill’s backers said it is about simple “fairness,” but the California Chamber of Commerce labeled it a “job killer” that “unduly burdens” small companies and “exposes them to the threat of costly litigation.”

Brown also signed Assembly Bill 168, which bans all employers – including state and local governments, and even the Legislature – from asking for the salary history of any applicant. Instead, the employer must provide a salary scale. It was pitched mainly as a gender-equality measure.

“The practice of seeking or requiring the salary history of job applicants helps perpetuate wage inequality that has spanned generations of women in the workforce,” said Assembly member Susan Eggman, the Stockton Democrat who sponsored the bill. Opponents argue that there are many legitimate reasons for employers to seek out an applicant’s salary history and that the law will cause employers mainly to enlarge the pay range, thus making it much harder for applicants and employers to find the appropriate level of pay.

These bills were part of a package backed by the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. Not all of them were workplace-related. For instance, the governor signed AB10 by Assembly member Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, which “requires public schools serving low-income students in grades 6 to 12 to provide feminine hygiene products in half of the school’s bathrooms at no charge.”

And he signed AB273 by Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, which “expands the eligibility criteria for subsidized child care services to parents who are taking English as a second language or high school equivalency courses.” Brown also gave the OK to a bill that will subsidize diapers for poor women.

In other topic areas, the governor signed 11 bills on Wednesday designed “to improve California’s criminal and juvenile justice systems, restore the power of judges to impose criminal sentences and reduce recidivism through increased rehabilitation.” These include measures that would seal the records of people who were arrested but never convicted of a crime; allow a parole hearing for juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole; and a bill that gives judges additional discretion regarding the “firearms enhancement” for sentencing decisions.

Furthermore, the governor signed AB1448, by Assembly member Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, which allows the Board of Parole to continue its parole hearings for elderly prisoners who have served at least 25 years in prison after federal oversight of the prison system ends. The state had been under federal court decrees dealing with overcrowding, but has since passed a realignment law and other programs that have reduced the size of the inmate population. In his signing message, the governor said that this elderly-prisoner program has successfully reduced costs involving geriatric prisoners who no longer pose a risk to society.

The governor previously had signed SB384, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, which creates a tiered sex-offender registry rather than the current system of lifetime registration. The bill received significant law-enforcement support. Supporters argued that “local law enforcement agencies spend between 60 to 66 percent of their resources dedicated for sex offender supervision on monthly or annual registration paperwork because of the large numbers of registered sex offenders on our registry,” according to the Senate bill analysis.

“If we can remove low-risk offenders from the registry it will free up law enforcement officers to monitor the high risk offenders living in our communities,” supporters argued. There was no official, recorded opposition to the bill, but Republican opponents expressed fear in the floor debate that these changes would put the public at risk.

The governor signed a controversial drug-pricing transparency bill, SB17, that forces “drug manufacturers to notify specified purchasers, in writing at least 90 days prior to the planned effective date, if it is increasing the wholesale acquisition cost … of a prescription drug by specified amounts.” The pharmaceutical industry fought vociferously against the measure, which it believes is a first step in a national campaign to impose government price controls.

The governor used some of his strongest – and most ideological – rhetoric in touting this measure. “The rich are getting richer. The powerful are getting more powerful. So this is just another example where the powerful get more power and take more,” he said, according to a National Public Radio report of the signing ceremony. “We’ve got to point to the evils, and there’s a real evil when so many people are suffering so much from rising drug profits.”

This was part of a package of recently signed medical-related consumer-oriented legislation. Other legislation puts limits on the gifts and benefits doctors can receive from drug manufacturers, prevents drug makers from steering consumers to higher-priced medications, creates a licensing system for pharmacy benefit managers, and creates a California Pharmaceutical Collaborative to help government agencies negotiate better deals for pharmaceuticals.

Signings have been far more plentiful than vetoes.

But the governor vetoed a bill that would require people who work for many web-based meal-delivery services that deliver pre-packaged uncooked meals to consumers to obtain a food-handler’s card. In his veto message, the governor wrote that he is “not convinced … that the existing regulatory scheme for food facilities is suitable for this new industry.” Brown vetoed a bill that would have created a new state task force that would examine opioid prescriptions in light of the state’s opioid crisis.

He also vetoed AB63, which would have imposed the same curfew (between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.) on drivers under the age of 21 that now applies only to those under 18. “Eighteen-year-olds are eligible to enlist in the military, vote in national, state and local elections, enter into contracts and buy their own car. I believe adults should not be subject to the same driving restrictions presently applied to minors,” Brown explained in his veto message.

Stay tuned. The governor has until Sunday night to sign or veto the remaining bills passed this session.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at [email protected]

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California Chamber releases list of ‘job killer’ bills


As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

The California Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday released a list of 18 bills it says will reduce jobs and hurt the state economy.

The chamber introduces it’s so-called “job killers” every spring and boasts a high success rate of blocking bills on the list from becoming law. Critics question the organization’s methodology to determine the list.

All of the bills labeled job killers this year were introduced by Democratic lawmakers and four carried over from 2015.

“As everyone knows, California has areas that are booming economically and other areas that are stagnating,” said Allan Zaremberg, president and chief executive officer of the California Chamber, in a statement. “Each part of California has unique problems and these job killers will negatively impact future economic …

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