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Anaheim federal corruption probe: Who the heck is Company A?

Orange County Register 5/25/2022 Teri Sforza, The Orange County Register

There’s a fun new parlor game that’s everyone’s playing called “Who the heck is Company A?!”

Officials whisper guesses in the halls of the state Capitol, regular folks chatter about it online, workers murmur hypotheses at Anaheim City Hall.

An employee of Company A, for those of you not following every burp and gurgle of the federal corruption probe in Anaheim, attended behind-the-scenes “retreats” with city movers and shakers, according to court documents. This self-described “cabal” of Anaheim business and political leaders exerted “significant influence” over the city, bypassing the public process, federal investigators allege.

The Los Angeles Times identified Disney as Company A late Tuesday and reported that Carrie Nocella, the Disneyland Resort director of external affairs, was the Company A employee mentioned.

The Register had not independently confirmed that information, though certainly had heard it.

We know this: One of those political leaders was allegedly former Mayor Harry Sidhu, who resigned Monday amid a chorus of outrage, but has not been charged with any crime.

One of those business leaders was allegedly former Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament, who was charged in a criminal complaint with playing a shell game with other people’s money while buying a home in Big Bear City.

And then there’s the mysterious Company A, described in court documents as “an influential company located in Anaheim.” A rep from Company A was considered part of the “family” by Ament, and helped script statements for the city official to read during a city council meeting on an upcoming bond issue.

“[Company A] asked to delete reference to [Company A’s parking lot],” court papers say.

Apparently complying with Company A’s wishes, the city official did not mention a parking lot during his speech. But that didn’t necessarily earn him props.

“Later that evening, likely during the City Council meeting, which was being live streamed, an incoming text message from Company A Employee to Political Consultant 1 was intercepted. Company A Employee’s text read, ‘[Elected Official 1] reads your script so poorly.’ Political Consultant 1 replied, ‘Lol,’ followed by, ‘He doesn’t practice,’ ” federal documents said.

So, who, then, could Company A possibly be? What influential company in Anaheim might be so important that it’s included on retreats about city business?

“What kind of a Mickey Mouse question was that, SFORZA?” a man texted this humble scribe.

Several posted rodent emojis on our social media queries about Company A. There was one of a whistling Steamboat Willie at the helm of a ship.

But several people got right down to it. “I think it’s either Disney or Disney,” said Shelby Hogan of Anaheim. “There’s also a chance it could be Disney, and a remote possibility that it’s Disney, but on the whole I feel confident that Company A is Disney.”

Of course, we asked Disney if Company A was Disney, and if any Disney officials have been contacted as part of the probe. The public relations folks responded thusly on May 18:

“We have seen media reports of the complaint and no authorities have reached out to us about it.”

We thanked them for getting back to us, and said we were hoping to learn if a Disney representative attended retreats with Ament et al, and if Disney is Company A.

We asked a couple of times. Crickets.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, of course. There might be some other influential company with a city-related parking lot in Anaheim that’s escaping me. (Anaheim agreed to foot the bill for up to $200 million in infrastructure improvements when Disney built California Adventure next to Disneyland. The Mickey & Friends Parking Structure cost the city $108 million, electrical improvements cost $17.6 million and a pedestrian bridge cost $3.6 million, city officials told us when last we looked at corporate subsidies in California.)

And it’s not unusual, much less illegal, for local powerbrokers to meet with officials to discuss city business. It happens all the time, everywhere. Some might call that democracy, while others might call that the system catering to the rich and powerful.

Anyway, public policy affects private bottom lines, and corporations and special interests write thousands upon thousands of bills that are shopped around to lawmakers to shepherd to fruition. An investigation by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity called “Copy, Paste, Legislate” documented more than 10,000 of these “model bills” circulating through state legislatures.

Nothing illegal about it; you can decide how savory it is. And complaints about Disney’s sway over Anaheim are about as old as Disneyland itself.

How much control did this Anaheim “cabal” of businessfolk have over city hall? Is Disney Company A? We’ll see. It’ll all come out eventually. Until then, it may help to keep in mind that delightful song from Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns”: “A Cover Is Not the Book.”

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