A close acquaintance of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown was arraigned today on a federal extortion charge involving the exchange of cash for a lucrative city contract. The alleged illegal scheme involved a prominent Oakland official, whom court documents identify only as "City Official A." But sources and circumstances indicate that the unnamed official is likely City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.
Although De La Fuente has not been accused of any wrongdoing, Brown's tailor Maurice Himy was charged this morning for allegedly shaking down an Oakland businessman who'd been disqualified from bidding on a city contract to auction surplus property, such as old vehicles.
Dressed in jail garb, Himy entered a not guilty plea Thursday morning 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.
Himy was the longtime owner of Spaccio, a recently closed men's clothing store in City Hall Plaza, and his friendship with the mayor dates back to the seventies, when Brown was governor. According to a 2001 Los Angeles Times story, Himy has tailored suits for Brown and his former close adviser, Jacques Barzaghi, for more than thirty years. Brown has not been implicated in Himy's alleged wrongdoing. The mayor's office declined to comment on the charges, and took issue with the description of Himy as the mayor's "friend." "'Friend' is a strong word," said Gil Duran, Brown's press secretary.
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.
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." Initially, he asked for $10,000 in cash upfront. 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.
Oakland finance director William Noland said that after Cooper complained about initially being disqualified for 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 local firm that bid on the contract.
Contacted by telephone, De La Fuente admitted talking to Noland, Himy, and Cooper about the contract. But he insisted he never demanded or accepted any money: "I have absolutely nothing to be concerned about," he said.
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