Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's special election is hogging all the headlines, but the most sensational story of this off-year campaign season comes from the political boonies in Hayward: Gadfly and school board candidate Roger Treskunoff, who was running on a platform of fiscal responsibility, got himself arrested for fleecing his 85-year-old mother-in-law of around $15,000 so that he could play the ponies at the race track. Last week Treskunoff pleaded guilty to a felony count of financial elder abuse, but had identity theft charges against him dropped. He agreed to pay restitution and join Gamblers Anonymous, plus five years of probation.
But Treskunoff's legal troubles don't end there. During the elder-abuse investigation, he told sheriff's deputies he had raised $20,000 in donations for his school board bid, according to Dale Amaral, a sheriff's lieutenant. But Treskunoff allegedly couldn't account for what he did with that money, and he hadn't bothered to form a campaign committee as the law requires. The sheriff's department has punted the case to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission for further investigation.
Local authorities, however, are still "vigorously investigating" possible voter fraud by Treskunoff, Amaral says. Sheriff's investigators are trying to figure out what the candidate was doing with more than forty voter-registration forms -- some filled out, some incomplete. Amaral says a citizen told investigators that Treskunoff had used his name and other personal information to obtain an absentee ballot without the voter's prior knowledge or permission. "Why he [Treskunoff] was doing it, who knows," Amaral said.
The district attorney's office is assisting in the inquiry. Deputy DA Trevor White tells Feeder that there are two types of voter fraud he's come across during his tenure: Signature-gatherers who put fake names on petitions to qualify them for the ballot; and scammers who turn in bogus voter-registration cards either to get absentee ballots and cast extra votes for their candidate, or to perpetrate identity theft. "Whether that's what is happening in this case, I don't know," White says, cautioning Feeder readers not to jump to conclusions. Treskunoff's attorney, Anthony Lowenstein, says his client "outright denies any voter fraud whatsoever."
In the meantime, Treskunoff has withdrawn from the school-board race, although his name will stay on the ballot because it's too late to remove it. He'll remain in custody at Santa Rita jail until his sentencing -- one week after next month's election.
At that point, he'll be looking for a place to crash. Since his arrest, his wife, Sandra Salerno, has filed for divorce. According to Deputy District Attorney Eileen McAndrew, who prosecuted the elder abuse case, Salerno had no idea what her hubby was up to until recently. In August, Salerno's mother got a letter saying her credit line had been lowered because of mysterious unpaid bills. Salerno obtained an online credit report for her mom and found out that someone -- she didn't know who -- had piled up fifteen grand in charges on two fraudulent credit card accounts using her mom's name. "She turned over the information to police ... having no idea her husband" was the perpetrator, McAndrew says.
Not Much Action Here
Now some encouraging news for financially abused elders: Just a year ago it seemed like the East Bay was going to have more Indian casinos than Starbucks locations. Since then, though, hysterical -- mostly Caucasian -- puritans have soured the political climate for turning the I-80/580 corridor into Reno by the Bay. In the past year, the Koi Nation pulled up its stakes at a site near the Oakland airport, and the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians shelved plans for a Vegas-style casino in San Pablo. Now comes word that a proposal for a casino at Point Molate in Richmond might crap out.
Last month Fred Kelley, a traffic consultant for casino developer Upstream Development, told a staffer for the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee in an e-mail: "Things have ground to a halt on the project, at least for now. The developers are at a crossroads and are considering other potential development options such as residential." The committee had been in contact with Kelley as part of its plan to do a regional traffic analysis.
Last year the Richmond City Council agreed to sell more than four hundred acres of shoreline property for $50 million to Upstream Development and Harrah's, who are partnering with the 112-member, Ukiah-based Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians. Since then, though, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose office would negotiate a gaming compact with the tribe, publicly came out in May against casinos in urban areas except for Casino San Pablo, controlled by the Lyttons. Meanwhile, a Florida-based gambling consortium is suing Upstream and Harrah's for $1 billion for allegedly undermining its earlier casino deal with the Guidiville tribe.
Upstream partner Jim Levine, however, insists that the casino project is still on track. He says the environmental impact report is in the works. He didn't deny that Upstream was considering alternatives, but Levine says that from the time his group bought the property from the city, it always had a publicly stated Plan B to build housing and retail on the site. Both options are still viable, he insists: "Really, nothing has changed."
That begs the obligatory gambling metaphor: Care to wager on that, Jim?
Silence of the Lambs
Ron Dellums is an icon in Oakland's African-American community; as such he'd be the natural choice of the city's influential black clergy to become the next mayor. Dellums, however, joined the mayoral conga line late; erstwhile frontrunner Ignacio De La Fuente had already been endorsed by many of Oakland's righteous reverends -- including the city's most influential man of God, Dr. J. Alfred Smith, who presides over a congregation of more than five thousand at Allen Temple Baptist Church.
Shortly before Dellums made his announcement two weeks ago, Smith told the black-owned newspaper, the Oakland Post, that he was "undecided" as to whom he was going to support for mayor. This past week Smith didn't return three phone calls or an e-mail from Feeder asking for clarification. The always accessible De La Fuente -- he carries three cellphones -- told Feeder that Smith has personally reassured him of his support. Still, Nacho had to concede that Smith's silence suggested maybe something was up: "I have to take people for their word. J. Alfred Smith told me he endorses me and supports me ... and I hope that's still the case."
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