Ignacio De La Fuente really wanted a Porsche. And not just any Porsche. The Oakland City Council president had his heart set on a black 1997 911 Turbo, a superfast coupe that fetches up to $100,000 retail. And it turns out that this sleek two-seater was parked at the center of the FBI bribes-for-contracts investigation inside City Hall.
The revelation about De La Fuente's desire for the rare sports car was disclosed recently in federal court documents in the upcoming trial of Maurice Himy, a close friend of Jacques Barzaghi, onetime confidant of ex-Mayor Jerry Brown. Himy, who used to own a men's clothing store across from City Hall, was indicted last fall on one count of felony extortion. According to the indictment, Himy demanded at least $65,000 from car dealer Donald Cooper in exchange for helping Cooper snag a public contract to auction surplus city-owned vehicles. Cooper estimated the contract was worth $1 million.
The court documents not only shed new light on the FBI's investigation, they reveal that De La Fuente was the focus of the probe all along. They also show that throughout 2005 and early 2006, Himy repeatedly told Cooper he would obtain the contract with De La Fuente's help, and if Cooper refused to pay, Himy threatened to "fuck up" the deal or "kill" it. Himy didn't know at the time that Cooper was cooperating with the FBI, was wearing a wire, and had agreed to let the feds wiretap his phones. The feds wiretapped Himy's phones as well.
In at least four taped conversations detailed in FBI transcripts and affidavits, Himy made it clear Cooper was to find a special Porsche for De La Fuente, and appeared to insinuate that Cooper would get the councilman's help in exchange. Himy said De La Fuente wanted to buy the car at wholesale, or up to $40,000 less than its maximum retail price.
Himy first laid out the plan, according to court documents, in an April 21, 2005 conversation at his then-store Spaccio, two days after Cooper and his wife walked into the FBI's Oakland office to complain of Himy's alleged extortion. According to an FBI transcript, Himy told Cooper, who was wearing a wire, that he had to pay to get the contract. They then began talking about De La Fuente and the Porsche.
Himy: "He cannot get it for free ... He knows that, please." He elaborates a moment later: "He doesn't want to pay a hundred. But he ask you to look for one, he want to buy one wholesale."
Himy: "That you can get maybe seventy, seventy-five, sixty, whatever we can get it for." Later, he adds: "We can get it for him, okay? Then he'd be happy."
Himy repeated De La Fuente's desire for a Porsche in at least three subsequent taped conversations with Cooper between July 1, 2005 and January 7, 2006, according to FBI affidavits. However, there were no taped conversations between Cooper and De La Fuente or between Himy and the council president regarding the car.
De La Fuente, who has not been charged with any crime, told Full Disclosure that he indeed talked to Cooper about the Porsche, but only once. He also denied discussing it with Himy, and said he never expected a quid pro quo of a discount in exchange for helping Cooper land the city contract. "That's bullshit, period," he said. "Absolutely goddamn bullshit lies." He added that he had wanted a black 1997 Turbo for years and figured Cooper, as a car dealer, could find one.
But there's no denying that De La Fuente intervened on Cooper's behalf. In March 2005, city staffers disqualified Cooper's bid because he submitted it four minutes late. But after the council president called city finance director Bill Noland, staffers reopened the selection process and retooled it to favor Cooper.
De La Fuente later told reporters he was merely trying to help the only Oakland business that submitted a bid. But in a wiretapped September 13, 2005 phone call between Cooper and the council president, De La Fuente made it clear, according to an FBI affidavit, that he did more than lend a hand he made it happen:
De La Fuente: "Hi, it's Ignacio. ... I checked with our people, and let me tell you what they are saying. They're going to do it as soon as possible, but one of the arguments is that we have no cars to dispose right there this minute, so it hasn't been a priority for them. But I talked to Bill Noland, just between you and I here, and in the next couple of weeks, it will be out [the new request for proposals, or RFP], okay?"
Cooper: "Oh, okay, because it doesn't matter if they have no cars. The main thing is that I'm awarded the contract."
De La Fuente: "You got it. That's what I told them. That's what I told them. So we will be working on it for the next couple of weeks so we can have the RFP and we do our thing, alright?"
De La Fuente: "You're welcome."
The city finally awarded Cooper the contract in February 2006.
Curiously, the transcripts were disclosed in court not by prosecutors, but by Himy's attorney, William Osterhoudt. Even more curious is his interpretation of them. Despite the repeated claims on tape by his own client that De La Fuente wanted Cooper to sell him a Porsche at up to $40,000 below retail, Osterhoudt argued in court papers that the idea that this was "a bribe or part of an extortion is simply unsupported by the evidence." Instead, he said the tapes proved that because De La Fuente was willing to pay for the car, he "was not expecting a payoff from Cooper."
Osterhoudt, who also admitted in court that Himy likely violated Oakland law because he did not register as a lobbyist after he accepted $12,000 from Cooper and then talked to De La Fuente and other city officials about the auctioneering contract, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Regardless, the tapes now sit at the heart of Himy's case, especially since Cooper died in February of liver cancer. Osterhoudt filed a motion last month to have the wiretaps thrown out of evidence. The issue is pivotal, because if he wins, the case against Himy will be devastated. But if the motion loses, Himy will surely be looking at federal prison, thereby increasing the odds that he will cop a plea and cooperate with prosecutors.
In court documents, Osterhoudt argued the wiretaps should be tossed because the FBI did not fully disclose Cooper's criminal background to the federal magistrates who authorized the taps. (In 1995, Cooper got 41 months in prison for fraud after he tried to score federal relief funds following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1991 Oakland hills firestorm even though he had no property damaged in the disasters.)
What's more, the defense wrote, the feds never fully disclosed to the judges that Cooper might have stolen $3,000 of FBI-supplied cash during the Himy investigation. Osterhoudt claimed the feds also failed to adequately reveal that Cooper, more than a year before he went to the FBI, had proposed in writing that he would pay Himy $5,000 plus a quarter of the proceeds for his help in getting the contract. The lawyer said this proved his client didn't extort Cooper, because it was Cooper's idea.
Finally, Osterhoudt claimed that the FBI had repeatedly misinterpreted taped conversations involving Himy, who is Moroccan and speaks with a strong French accent. The tapes, he said, show that Cooper owed Himy at least $13,000 for clothing he fronted him the money Himy demanded was actually for the clothes, the lawyer claimed.
Lead prosecutor, Assistant US Attorney Stephen Corrigan, declined comment, but in court papers, he argued that the FBI correctly interpreted the tapes and that Himy's extortion was simple and clear: "He threatened to kill the contract if Cooper did not pay him."
As for the Porsche? De La Fuente never did buy one from Cooper. But he finally scored his baby in December of last year, three months after the feds took Himy away in handcuffs. According to DMV records, the black 1997 911 Turbo Coupe became the council president's eighth registered vehicle, in addition to his 1986 Porsche coupe, a 2002 Buick sedan, a 1987 Dodge pickup, a 2006 Land Rover station wagon, a 2001 GMC truck, and two motorcycles a 2003 Indian and a 2001 Harley.
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