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Indian-American ex-mayor pleads guilty to corruption charges

New York, Aug 19 (IANS) The former Indian-American mayor of a city in California has agreed to plead guilty to multiple felony charges including obstruction of justice, wire fraud, and making false statements to the FBI.

Harish ‘Harry’ Sidhu, the first Sikh to be elected as the mayor of Anaheim in 2018, admitted to obstructing an FBI probe into a failed stadium sale, lying to FBI agents, and expecting $1 million for leaking confidential information, the US Attorney’s Office announced this week.

According to court documents filed in the US District Court on Wednesday, Sidhu, 66, also admitted to cheating California tax authorities and making false statements to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in relation to his purchase of a helicopter.

Following this, federal prosecutors filed a criminal information charging Sidhu with four offenses — one count of obstruction of justice, one count of wire fraud, and two counts of making false statements to the FBI and the FAA.

Sidhu is expected to make his initial appearance in United States District Court in Santa Ana later this month.

According to his plea agreement, Sidhu, who was elected mayor in 2018, admitted that while the City of Anaheim was negotiating the sale of Angel Stadium to the Los Angeles Angels Major League Baseball club, he sought out and became a member of the city’s negotiating team for the stadium sale.

While on the negotiating team, Sidhu provided confidential information belonging to the city to people working for the Angels, so that the Angels could buy Angel Stadium on favourable terms for the baseball club.

After secretly providing the information he had received in his position as mayor, Sidhu later was recorded saying he expected a $1 million campaign contribution from the Angels after the baseball club purchased Angel Stadium, Sidhu’s plea agreement stated.

“While serving as Anaheim’s mayor, Sidhu took a series of actions that compromised the city’s negotiating position by providing confidential information and secretly working to influence the city’s decision-making process — all of which had a detrimental effect on the city and its residents,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Joseph T McNally.

Sidhu agreed that he knowingly destroyed evidence by deleting multiple email messages and documents with the intent to impede and obstruct the FBI’s investigation of public corruption related to the city’s attempted sale of Angel Stadium.

In the plea agreement, he said he deleted an email message he had sent on July 21, 2020, with an attachment drafted by lawyers for the city, which contained confidential negotiation information related to the potential sale of Angel Stadium, including a discussion of issues related to price.

His plea agreement stated that he deleted a September 2020 email message about secret mock Anaheim City Council meetings involving Sidhu, two other City Council members and representatives of the Angels – including the team president and a team lawyer.

During the investigation, FBI secretly recorded multiple statements by Sidhu about the $1 million campaign contribution that he expected to receive after the City of Anaheim sold Angel Stadium to the Angels, the plea agreement states.

Sidhu also admitted that in late 2020, he tried to defraud the State of California of approximately $16,000 in sales tax revenue by using an Arizona address to register a helicopter he had just purchased, even though he lived in Anaheim.

Also, he provided false information for the helicopter to the Federal Aviation Administration when he submitted an “Aircraft Registration Application” that he signed and certified as true, but which falsely claimed his permanent mailing address was in Arizona.

Once Sidhu enters his guilty pleas, he will face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for the obstruction of justice count, up to 20 years in federal prison for the wire fraud count, and up to five years in federal prison for each false statements count.

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