Federal prosecutors have secured a criminal conviction in the Oakland City Hall bribes-for-contracts case, but it wasn't the outcome they hoped for. Maurice Himy, a politically connected East Bay businessman who allegedly once called Oakland "Moneytown," pleaded guilty earlier this month to a felony charge of lying to FBI agents. The US Attorney's Office had hoped to convict Himy of extortion, but the case unraveled when the star witness died and not enough evidence surfaced to implicate City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.
Court records show that De La Fuente was the feds' primary target during their 2005 and 2006 corruption probe. Himy was caught on tape demanding thousands of dollars from Oakland car dealer Donald Cooper, making it clear that Cooper was to sell a classic Porsche to De La Fuente for $40,000 less than its maximum retail price. Himy then insinuated that the councilman would help Cooper snag a contract to auction surplus city-owned vehicles.
While De La Fuente acknowledged helping Cooper land the contract and talking to him about a black 1997 911 Porsche Turbo, he denied any knowledge of the alleged extortion scheme. He also never purchased the car from Cooper, so the feds' case was going to be tough to prove. Under federal law, prosecutors needed to show that Himy had the power to award the contract. And though Himy repeatedly threatened Cooper that he would "fuck up" the deal, he was not a city employee and FBI agents could not prove that De La Fuente was in on the scheme. "They never had the evidence," said Himy's attorney, William Osterhoudt. "It just wasn't there."
Although the US Attorney's Office declined to comment, prosecutors were lucky to obtain any conviction after Cooper unexpectedly died of cancer last year. Osterhoudt had attempted to get the wiretaps thrown out of court, but when he failed, his client accepted a deal from prosecutors. Under that February 8 deal, Himy admitted that he lied to FBI agents. Along with agreeing to one year of probation, he also admitted that he violated Oakland law and should have registered as a lobbyist after he accepted $12,000 from Cooper and then talked to De La Fuente and other officials about the contract.
Dems fire Perata's gal
For the past three years, Sandi Polka has been one of the most influential and best-paid political operatives in Sacramento. But the fortunes of the closest adviser to state Senate boss Don Perata took a substantial hit earlier this month when the California Democratic Party fired her after she allegedly fabricated a quote, attributed it to party Chairman Art Torres, and sent it to the Los Angeles Times.
The made-up quote was printed February 1. In a story about Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, reporter Nancy Vogel noted that the Democratic State Central Committee donated $200,000 last year to Perata's legal defense fund, which he set up three years ago after the FBI began investigating him for corruption. Vogel then printed this quote purportedly from Torres: "The California Democratic Party isn't about to let a politically motivated inquiry undermine the good work of one of our longtime leaders."
The only problem was that statement didn't come from Torres, said party spokesman Roger Salazar. "It was something that was never said," Salazar told Full Disclosure. "And it was never approved by Art."
Salazar didn't want to talk about who was responsible for the bogus quote, but two knowledgeable Sacramento sources said party officials fired Polka after the story came out. The quote also sounds as if it was generated by the Perata camp. The senator has long maintained that the federal probe was politically motivated by a Republican-controlled Justice Department. Polka did not return a phone call seeking comment.
But why did the Democratic Party give Perata so much money for his legal bills? "Senator Perata asked for it and we moved it over," Salazar explained. "Senator Perata has raised a lot of funds for the California Democratic Party over the years."
The firing, meanwhile, will deliver a blow to Polka's finances. Last year, the Democratic Party paid her more than $150,000 for six months of work — although it's not clear from campaign finance reports exactly what she did to earn that much cash. Yet even without the party's money, Polka likely will profit handsomely again this year. In 2007, she was paid $747,754 by several different political committees. Her biggest benefactor was the Voter Education and Registration Fund, a Perata-linked committee that paid her $16,000 a month last year just to keep her on retainer.
Did Steinberg pay to become Senate leader?
State Senator Darrell Steinberg has a reputation for being an ethical straight-shooter. But a large campaign contribution he made recently to the same Perata committee that pays Polka's bills raises questions as to whether the Sacramento Democrat will be just like his predecessor when he takes over as Senate leader at the end of this year.
On December 17, Steinberg donated $105,000 to the Voter Education and Registration Fund, a supposedly independent committee that has been controlled by Perata for the past few years. A little more than a month after Steinberg cut the check, Perata approved a deal that will allow Steinberg to succeed him as the next president pro tem.
So did Steinberg make a payoff to become the most powerful Democrat in the state capital? In an e-mail response, Steinberg's spokesman Jim Evans said: "In his capacity as leader of the Senate Democrats, Senator Perata is responsible for supporting Democratic candidates and causes. In contributing to Senator Perata's campaign accounts, Senator Steinberg is doing his part to further Democratic values statewide."
Not exactly a denial. But the contribution does appear to be yet another example of how Sacramento politics have worked under Perata and his predecessor John Burton. After all, Perata donated $100,000 to the Burton-controlled Senate Majority Fund in 2000, and two years later, Burton appointed him majority leader.
Setting an example for all gun owners
Perata made headlines last week when he sponsored a gun buyback event in Oakland and then was first in line to turn in his own handgun. The senator owned a concealed weapons permit from the Alameda County Sheriff's Office from the early 1980s to the end of 2006. He obtained the permit after allegedly receiving threats while working for Southern California Congressman Howard Berman.
Over the years, Perata has owned several handguns and held permits for different weapons, sheriff's spokesman Sergeant J.D. Nelson said. A 1997 San Francisco Chronicle story reported that the senator's permit was for a 9 mm Beretta semiautomatic pistol. Then in 1999, the Chronicle reported that his permit was for a .357 semiautomatic handgun. And finally, a January 2008 Chron story reported that Perata said he planned to turn in his .38-caliber Colt revolver at the buyback event.
So which gun did Perata turn in? The Oakland Tribune reported that the senator gave up "his own .357 magnum" at the buyback event. So what about the 9 mm and the .38 revolver? Does the father of the gun buyback still own them? Spokeswoman Alicia Trost did not return a phone call seeking an answer.
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