Disney power broker is part of a ‘cabal’ pulling strings in Anaheim, FBI records show

An FBI affidavit made public last week identified an employee of an unnamed influential company as a key participant in a “cabala” running the Anaheim government.

The firm’s employee, called “Company A” in the affidavit that is part of a federal public corruption investigation, helped draft a statement read by an elected official before the City Council voted on the bond issue and provided information on who to invite to a covert meeting. retreat for the powerful of the community.

Company A is the Disneyland Resort, according to a person familiar with the investigation, and the employee is Carrie Nocella, Director of External Affairs for the Disneyland Resort.

Although neither the company nor Nocella have been charged with wrongdoing, their connection to the wide-ranging investigation that led to Harry Sidhu resigning as Anaheim mayor on Monday underscores the immense influence the company wields in the city of 350,000 on a budget. powered by millions of visitors. each year to the Disneyland Resort.

The company has long played a dominant role in Anaheim politics. Some current and former council members, local activists and a former mayor say the Disneyland Resort has leveraged its influence on lucrative tax breaks at the expense of city residents and financed friendly politicians with generous campaign donations. Disney has opposed such criticism, arguing that the resort provides the city with a major economic engine and is a job creator.

But the court filing provides an unusually detailed look inside how the company works to shape events out of the public eye.

Councilman José Moreno said Disneyland’s influence over the city was obvious to anyone paying attention.

“That would be the worst kept secret in town,” he said.

In response to questions from The Times about its identification as Company A, Disney said in a statement that “we have seen media reports of the allegation and no authority has contacted us about it.” Nocella, who deleted her Facebook and Instagram accounts last week, declined to comment.

Company A came to light in a 99-page affidavit by FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins in support of a criminal complaint that accused Todd Ament, former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, of lying to a mortgage lender.

The agent wrote that Ament and an anonymous political consultant “were the leaders of a small group of people who met in person to discuss strategy around various issues within Anaheim, issues that were often pending, or soon will be pending, before the Anaheim City Court. Advice,” Adkins wrote.

The affidavit described Company A employee Nocella as one of the ringleaders of the group “to some extent.”

Prior to a secret meeting of Anaheim business leaders, consultants and politicians in December 2020, Adkins alleged that the Company A employee provided information to Ament and the political consultant about whom to invite.

Details about the consultant in the affidavit match Jeff Flint, the executive director and senior partner of FSB Public Affairs, who has represented the Disneyland Resort. Flint, who announced last week that he would step down as chief executive, denied doing anything wrong.

During a wiretapped phone call on November 30, 2020 between the consultant and an Anaheim politician identified as Elected Official 1, the politician asked if two colleagues had been invited to the retreat.

“No, I talked it over with Todd. [Ament] Y [Company A Employee]”, said the political consultant. “We feel like for this first one we’ll keep things general and stick with um, with, um, [Elected Official 4] Y [Elected Official 3]. … But, uh, [Elected Official 2’s]you know, I think he’s in the team, but he’s just going to take some control because he has competitive pressures.

The subject line of the email invitation to the Ament attendee meeting read: “Retirement 12/2020.” The event was scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the JW Marriott in Anaheim with a “social hour to follow at its conclusion.”

Anaheim City Councilmembers Stephen Faessel and Trevor O’Neil, along with City Manager Jim Vanderpool, have publicly acknowledged their attendance at the retreat.

“As I recall, the main focus of this meeting was how to reopen our economy, get our residents back to work, distribution of essential goods,” Faessel said. “This was exactly the kind of meeting I would have expected City leaders to have at the time. Sadly, I have read with serious concern how this meeting has been portrayed. Apparently, others may have come into this with a different perspective than mine.”

The intercepted phone calls detailed in the affidavit described the gathering as anything but ordinary, as organizers became obsessed with including trusted people, “family members only” and keeping “family close,” as they debated whether to invite to a city council member described as possible. “double agent.” Ament, at one point, called the group “cabala.”

According to the affidavit, Nocella and Elected Official 1 were scheduled to attend the retreat.

Nearly four months later, Adkins wrote, the political consultant scripted the bond issue, with input from the Company A employee and Ament, for elected official 1 to read at the March 23 City Council meeting. 2021. The article authorized up to $210 million in bonds to offset revenue shortfalls related to the pandemic.

Hours before the meeting, the political consultant sent a text message to Elected Official 1’s aide: Company A “asked to remove the reference to [Company A’s parking lot]. I will send it to you.

Sidhu, then mayor, was the only elected official to speak at length on that agenda item during the meeting before it passed. Reading prepared remarks, he spoke of Disney in glowing terms: “I believe that Disney will continue to invest in Anaheim, strengthen our destination and ensure that Anaheim remains the West Coast’s premier long-term tourist attraction.”

But the Company A employee was not impressed and texted the political adviser to say that the mayor “misreads his script very badly,” according to the affidavit.

“Hahaha,” replied the political consultant. “He doesn’t practice.”

Sidhu was linked to the scandal in a separate affidavit in support of a search warrant for Adkins that was made public last week. He alleged that he gave confidential information to the Major League Baseball Angels on at least two occasions during the city’s negotiations with the team over the $320 million sale of Angel Stadium, and hoped to obtain a $1 million campaign donation. of the team. Sidhu denied any wrongdoing. He has not been charged.

In a statement Monday announcing the resignation, Sidhu’s attorney, Paul Meyer, wrote: “A fair and thorough investigation will prove that [Sidhu] he did not leak secret information in the hope of a later campaign contribution.”

The Disneyland Resort has long enjoyed the benefits of its relationship with the Anaheim government.

City leaders agreed in 1996 to issue $510 million in bonds to finance, among other projects, the construction of the $108 million Mickey & Friends parking structure. The resort keeps the parking revenue, and Anaheim will transfer ownership of the garage to Disney once the bonds and $1.1 billion in interest are paid.

In 2015, the City Council approved shielding Disneyland from any potential ticket sales taxes for 45 years, a massive revenue stream that was estimated to generate more than $1 billion in revenue for the city. Disneyland promised to build the park’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansion, which opened in 2019, and another major project in the future. City officials awarded the company a $267 million tax refund in 2016 for a luxury hotel.

Disneyland abandoned the hotel project in 2018 and asked the City Council to cancel its 45-year tax shelter on ticket sales. The resort did so when city voters approved a measure requiring any resort business that receives subsidies to pay its workers a living wage.

At the same time, Disney has directed significant campaign funds to influence city politics. The company contributed $1.3 million in 2021 to the Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee, a group made up of business owners, community leaders and residents, according to campaign finance documents for the non-election year.

In a profile on the University of the Pacific website in March, Nocella, who graduated from McGeorge Law School in 2002, recalled working at the Disneyland Resort in high school and college long before taking on his current role.

“The best part of my job is being able to sit down with an elected official or legislator and share with them where we stand on certain issues and what we’re doing in their communities,” Nocella said. “That’s important to be successful.”


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