Prosecutors will probably soon ask a federal grand jury to indict state Senate boss Don Perata on public corruption charges, according to two sources familiar with the investigation. An indictment would culminate a four-and-a-half-year federal probe of California's second-most-powerful politician.
The FBI, the US Attorney's Office, and a federal grand jury have been investigating whether the senator took bribes or kickbacks in exchange for providing official government favors to close friends, business associates, and major campaign donors.
It's not clear who else may be charged along with the Oakland Democrat. But based on public records and interviews, the feds also have been targeting Perata's best friend and business associate, Timothy Staples; his close confidante, Lily Hu; and his son, Nick Perata. The probe has examined whether any illegal payments were funneled through the three, according to public records and interviews. The feds also have examined the senator's financial dealings with his closest political adviser, Sandi Polka, and his daughter, Rebecca Perata-Rosati.
The senator has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and his aides have often derided the probe, calling it superficial. But public records show that he is taking the investigation very seriously. Through May 17, the last state filing deadline, his legal defense had racked up $1,921,779 in expenses since the probe began. In the first four-and-a-half months of this year alone, his expenses totaled $445,925.
However, Perata still has plenty of money at his disposal. According to state records, he's sitting on $1.97 million in four campaign accounts. In addition, the state Democratic Party just donated $250,000 to Perata's legal defense fund on July 1. Party spokesman Roger Salazar would not say whether the contribution had anything to do with the investigation coming to a close. "The California Democratic Party helps Democrats up and down the state when they're running for election," he said. "We also help them when they're under attack."
Based on interviews and subpoenas obtained by newspapers, the investigation has included:
An examination of the Ron Cowan Parkway, a $40 million publically funded road between Oakland airport and an Alameda business park. As the Express first reported in March 2006 (see "Road to Nowhere," 3/1/06), Perata strongly urged the Port of Oakland and the city of Alameda to hire a lobbyist to help obtain federal approval of the road even though the lobbyist's assistance was unnecessary.
Lily Hu's role in a 2002 BART seismic retrofit bond. As first reported in the Oakland Tribune in November 2004, BART paid Hu $112,000 from June 2001 to December 2003. BART also employed Polka as a consultant.
And the hiring of Staples by several card clubs in an attempt to stop an Indian tribe from opening Casino San Pablo, which was to be the first full-fledged casino in the Bay Area. As first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle in April 2005, Perata had strongly urged the clubs to hire Staples at a time when Staples also was paying Perata.
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