The former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce has been charged with lying to a mortgage lender in a growing Orange County political corruption scandal, federal authorities announced Tuesday.
In a criminal complaint, the FBI accused the chamber’s former president and chief executive Todd Ament of plotting with an unnamed political consultant to funnel chamber money into Ament’s personal bank accounts by laundering it through the consultant’s public relations firm.
The money was used to influence a bank’s decision to lend Ament more than $1.1 million to buy a sprawling $1.5-million home in Big Bear, the complaint says.
The PR firm gave Ament $205,000, making it appear he had enough cash on hand to secure the loan, according to the FBI.
The FBI also accused Ament of making a $200,000 payment directly to the seller of the home in order to reduce his property taxes and cut the cost of the commission for the seller’s real estate agent.
Ament was due in federal court in Santa Ana on Tuesday for his initial bail hearing. His attorney, Salvatore Ciulla, did not return a call for comment.
The charge against Ament of making false statements to a financial institution appeared to be just one part of a larger federal corruption investigation targeting Ament and others.
In an affidavit filed Monday with the criminal complaint, FBI agent Brian C. Adkins outlined suspected corruption well beyond the Big Bear home loan, including attempts by unnamed people to bribe elected officials in Orange County.
The case against Ament was announced a day after the public disclosure of another Adkins affidavit showing that the FBI is investigating Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu for suspected bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
Sidhu, Adkins wrote in the court filing, is believed to have shared confidential information with representatives of the Angels baseball team on the city’s sale of Angel Stadium in return for a large donation to his reelection campaign.
Sidhu’s attorney, Paul Meyer, could not be reached for comment. Mike Lyster, a spokesman for the city government, said he could not comment on the mayor’s behalf.
The affidavit released by the FBI Tuesday described Ament and the unnamed political consultant as leaders of a small group of Anaheim public officials, consultants and business leaders. The group met regularly at hotel suite “retreats” to exert influence over Anaheim’s government, Adkins wrote.
Ament and the political consultant described the group as a “family” or “cabal,” he said.
Adkins identified the consultant as “a principal partner of a nationally known political and public affairs company” with an office in the same building as the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. The chief executive and senior partner at FSB Public Affairs, which has an office in the same Anaheim building as the chamber, is veteran Republican political consultant Jeff Flint.
Adkins also wrote that the consultant filed lobbying disclosure reports identifying Angels affiliate SRB Management, LLC, as a client, starting in September 2020. City records show that Flint filed such reports.
Flint declined to comment on the case Tuesday when reached on his cellphone.
“I can’t talk right now,” he said.
For years, Ament and the Chamber of Commerce have been a key part of the political machine in Anaheim, Orange County’s most populous city and the home of Disneyland.
Ament helped spearhead campaigns to drum up public support for tax breaks granted to major businesses, and was heavily involved in the effort to sell Angel Stadium and surrounding land to the owner of the professional baseball team.
With court authorization, the FBI tapped the cellphones of Ament and the political consultant, Adkins wrote.
The FBI suspects Ament and the consultant engaged in a scheme to embezzle money from the Chamber of Commerce and to defraud an unnamed cannabis consultant and an unnamed cannabis business owner, according to Adkins’ most recent affidavit.
The cannabis consultant hatched a separate plot for two marijuana business owners to bribe two unidentified Irvine City Council members in return for passing pot laws on their behalf, Adkins alleged.
The business owners ended up working with the FBI to record conversations with the cannabis consultant, who was arrested in October 2019 and became a confidential federal witness.