A man who tailored suits for Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and other top city officials was arraigned Thursday on a federal extortion charge involving the exchange of cash for a lucrative city contract. The alleged illegal scheme involved dealings with a prominent Oakland official, whom court documents identify only as "City Official A." But sources and circumstances indicate that the unnamed official is City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.
Although De La Fuente has not been accused of any wrongdoing, Maurice Himy was charged this morning for allegedly shaking down an Oakland businessman who wanted to bid on a city contract to auction surplus property, such as old vehicles.
Dressed in jail garb, Himy entered a not guilty plea in an Oakland federal courtroom packed with supporters. After the hearing, attorney Gerald Schwartzbach, who appeared on Himy's behalf but hasn't been formally assigned to the case, declined to comment.
The official complaint accuses Himy of attempting to extort at least $65,000 from the businessman, who had begun cooperating with the FBI. Himy was allegedly caught on tape soliciting and taking the bribes over a period of several months, starting in April 2005. His arrest and charge was first revealed publicly Thursday morning by Oakland freelance journalist Sanjiv Handa.
Himy was the longtime owner of Spaccio, a recently closed men's clothing store in City Hall Plaza; his relationship with the mayor dates to the mid-1990s. Brown has not been implicated in Himy's alleged wrongdoing. The mayor's office declined to comment on the charges, and insisted Brown's relationship with Himy is not a close one.
According to the federal complaint, when the businessman resisted Himy's demand for cash, the tailor at one point said, "Pay me or I will kill the contract." Himy also allegedly referred to Oakland as "Moneytown." The alleged extortion scheme continued until the businessman was awarded the city auctioneering contract in February of this year. He is not named in the complaint, but the contract went to C&C Enterprises, which is owned by Donald J. Cooper. No one answered Thursday morning at the company's office in downtown Oakland, nor returned a message left on C&C's voicemail.
The complaint says the businessman met at least twice with City Official A. When the businessman asked Himy to prove he really had the power and connections to make the deal happen, Himy bragged that City Official A frequently visited Spaccio. Himy also showed the informant "several proposals for city contracts" and later indicated that the businessman could win more contracts if he kept paying cash. Initially, Himy asked for $10,000 up front, according to the complaint. Later, Himy allegedly demanded another $20,000 -- half for the tailor and half for City Official A. However, when the businessman handed Himy an envelope with $20,000 in cash supplied by the FBI, Himy took only $5,000 and returned the rest, the complaint stated.
Oakland finance director William Noland said that after Cooper complained about his initial disqualification from bidding on the contract in April 2005, De La Fuente contacted Noland to discuss the matter. Afterward, the contract terms were changed to favor a local contractor, and C&C was allowed to rebid. C&C was the only Oakland firm to bid on the contract.
Contacted by telephone, De La Fuente admitted talking to Noland, Himy, and Cooper about the contract, but said he never demanded or accepted any money. The councilman said that when he learned of Cooper's complaints, he agreed to meet with him, and that Cooper convinced him that an Oakland business should have the contract so that the city would reap the sales tax benefits. "I have absolutely nothing to be concerned about," De La Fuente said.
Himy, a short, stocky man who wears glasses and has short-cropped dark hair, was due to be released Thursday on his own recognizance. Federal Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil ordered the San Rafael resident to return to court September 21. Himy is officially charged with "interfering with commerce by threats of violence." Under federal law, the government has thirty days to indict him, prosecutor Stephen Corrigan said.
The tailor became a fixture in the Oakland political scene soon after Brown moved into City Hall in 1999. A networker, Himy schmoozed at parties and lunched regularly with top city officials, including Brown's former longtime adviser Jacques Barzaghi. In May 2004, Himy was tapped to join an official city delegation to North Africa to sign a sister-city agreement with Agadir in his native Morocco. The delegation included Brown, his soon-to-be-wife Anne Gust, Barzaghi, De La Fuente, Port Commissioner John Protopappas, and developer Phil Tagami.
According to the complaint, which is an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Marlo McGuire, Himy was involved in at least one other pay-to-play scheme in Oakland. In early 2004, an unidentified developer approached the FBI, alleging that Himy had attempted to extort $150,000 from him in a development deal.
The developer said he'd been offered an option to purchase an office building in Oakland in late 2003 and was looking for a tenant. He said he heard that the Oakland Police Department needed additional office space. But when he arranged a meeting with a police department official at the building, Himy showed up as well, according to the complaint. A few days later, Himy called the developer, allegedly demanded the bribe, and said, "This is how things are done in town." The developer backed out of the deal and contacted the FBI.
A year later, the Oakland businessman who wanted the auctioneering contract walked into the FBI offices to complain about Himy. In fact, shortly after he arrived, according to the complaint, the businessman's cell phone rang and he showed the display to an FBI employee. It read: "Spaccio." The FBI employee allegedly overheard the caller say loudly that he was going to "fuck up the deal" and "kill the deal" if the businessman did not agree to his terms.
The businessman also told the FBI that he originally bid on the contract on March 24, 2005, but was informed that his bid was disqualified because he submitted it "four minutes after the filing deadline." Soon after the rejection, Himy contacted the businessman and allegedly asked him to sign an official contract that would give Himy 8 percent to 10 percent of the auctioneering deal; in return, he promised, the bid would be revived and the businessman would get the contract.
The businessman then attended an Oakland City Council meeting where he complained about his bid disqualification -- according to city records, Cooper spoke at the council's April 5 meeting. City Official A allegedly told the man he would call him and arrange a meeting. On April 11, Official A met with the businessman and told him he would fix his problems. A week later, Himy allegedly told the businessman that Official A met with him because Himy had asked him to.
The businessman then agreed to wear an FBI wire. According to the complaint, Himy was caught on tape on April 21 demanding that he be paid $65,000 in monthly installments. "You try to fuck me up, then I, I'll kill the deal," Himy allegedly said.
During the next several months, the businessman met repeatedly with Himy, who continued to demand cash, according to the complaint. At one point, Himy appeared to show remorse about what he was doing -- and allegedly made an admission of guilt. He allegedly acknowledged to the businessman that he could not legally take money and "fuck everybody else." But then later, he allegedly threatened anew to scuttle the auctioneering deal if the businessman tried to cut him out of the pact and go directly to Official A.
Finally, in February 2006, the businessman received notice in the mail that he had won the contract. On February 9, according to the complaint, Himy was caught on tape taking credit for it. Then on July 18, Himy again met with the businessman and allegedly demanded payment.
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