Federal prosecutors scored a coup last week when Reverend Kevin Thompson, Bay Area leader for the Unification Church aka the Moonies was sentenced to one year behind bars for running the world's largest baby-leopard-shark poaching ring. But previously undisclosed evidence suggests that the conservative newspaper publisher and church supreme leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon both knew of and encouraged Thompson's illegal operation.
Moon's complicity, or lack thereof, has been the nagging question since the US Attorney's Office in Oakland indicted Thompson on felony charges a year ago (see "The Moonies and the Sharks," Feature, 7/12/06).
Thompson's guilt was never in doubt. The pastor of the Bay Area Family Church in San Leandro confessed to investigators almost immediately after he was caught, telling them that he and a few of his congregants had been hauling baby leopard sharks out of San Francisco Bay for more than fifteen years. Pet dealers from around the world paid handsomely for the beautiful and exotic fish and sold them to people for their home aquariums. One of Thompson's followers estimated they had hooked more than six thousand shark pups in all; the feds pegged the street value of the local church's operation at $1.2 million.
From the get-go, however, Special Agent Roy Torres of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uncovered evidence that the shark ring extended beyond Thompson. Among his more telling discoveries was the close tie between the pastor and True World Foods, the nation's largest supplier of sushi-grade fish. Moon's followers launched True World in the 1980s after the church leader issued a series of lectures, extolling the virtues of fishing. While Moon's followers call him "True Father," he calls himself "King of the Ocean."
Over the years, True World quietly rose to the top of the food chain in the domestic wholesale sushi business. The company, which has a warehouse in San Leandro near Thompson's church, makes beaucoup bucks in the East Bay, and has supplied some of the area's premier sushi restaurants, including Berkeley's Kirala, Alameda's Angelfish, and Oakland's Tachibana Sushi Bar and Grill.
Torres connected Thompson directly to True World when he discovered the San Leandro church kept three of its fishing boats inside the sushi distributor's gated parking lot. He also learned that Thompson kept live baby sharks in tanks inside a large shed on the True World property.
None of this circumstantial evidence, most of which Torres detailed in federal court records, established a direct link between Thompson's sharks and the King of the Ocean. But the pastor voluntarily made that link himself. In a 2003 sermon captured on audiotape, Thompson said he personally informed the True Father about the shark enterprise. "When I had the chance to tell our founder Reverend Moon about it ... he told me, you know, 'You need twenty boats out there fishing!'" he boasted. "He had this big plan drawn out, you know." Thompson, a Brit who speaks with a Scottish accent, also said he had to convince the excited Moon not to expand the operation, apparently out of fear that it would attract notice.
The 35-minute sermon, once available on the church's Web site (BAFC.org), has been taken down, but Full Disclosure recently obtained a digital copy (an excerpt of which is posted on our news blog, 92510). In it, Thompson describes his shark operation in detail. He also includes a few revelations that don't seem very, ahem, Christian. ...
Business really took off, Thompson told his flock, when a congregation member accidentally discovered the leopard-shark breeding grounds. Thompson and his followers would park right on top of where the pups were being born and snag so many, he bragged, that they would be flopping all over the deck of his boat. He also told of a little game the fishermen would play with the baby sharks. "We usually do diving competitions throw them up by the tail and see if they land, you know, nose first into the water," he said. "Usually they do belly flops."
The reverend wasn't entirely without sympathy for sharks: At one point in the sermon, he said they get a bad rap for being compared to lawyers. But his braggadocio and disdain for the legal profession were absent during his sentencing last week to twelve months and one day in federal prison, plus a $100,000 fine. "I made a huge mistake the biggest mistake of my life," he quietly confessed to US District Judge Claudia Wilken as about a dozen followers looked on. "I am sorry."
Torres and Assistant US Attorney Maureen Bessette, the lead prosecutor in the case, have been tight-lipped about the investigation. But according to a source familiar with the audio, both have been sent copies of the sermon that implicates Moon.
The True Father is no stranger to lawbreaking. During the 1980s, Moon spent thirteen months in prison for tax evasion. Liberals may want to lock him up for another reason: Moon's online magazine Insight, an extension of his right-wing Washington Times newspaper, recently spawned the bogus claim that White House hopeful Barack Obama attended an Islamic religious school during his youth.
Clearly, the Thompson audio is damning, and it likely played a role in getting the local churchman a stiff sentence for actions that, no matter how creepy, essentially boil down to poaching. But it's unclear whether the feds will use the audiotape to hook the biggest fish of all. We may find out soon: The US Attorney's Office has slated a major press conference on the shark-ring case for February 12.
Papa Dones' Deal
Speaking of the feds, public records show the FBI is investigating a $75,000 contract the Peralta Community College District inked for a solar-energy study that it then completely ignored. The study was conducted in 2001 and 2002 by longtime Oakland businessman Ray Dones.
At the time, Dones worked for ADCO, a firm owned by his son, Alan Dones. After Peralta paid ADCO $75,000, the elder Dones proposed that the district shell out $9 million to go solar. But in a scathing November 2002 review, Peralta's top finance officer, Thomas Smith, called the plan "a risky scheme" that would require 44 years to recoup the district's investment. He also raised conflict-of-interest concerns because Ray Dones proposed that his son's company install the solar panels and the wiring.
It is also unclear whether Dones had any expertise on the subject. In a bio submitted to Peralta, he bragged that he'd invented sound systems used by the Grateful Dead, but made no mention of having ever worked on a solar-energy project.
Dones did not return phone calls seeking comment, and Smith declined to comment. In a written response to questions, Peralta spokesman Jeff Heyman said, "Sadly, not all studies that are done are ultimately implemented. Some are partially implemented and some are reviewed and then a decision is made to move in another direction."
If the Dones name sounds familiar in this context, it's because we previously reported that Alan Dones was under federal scrutiny related to his failed attempt to redevelop the Laney College parking lot ("Dones' Deal," Bottom Feeder, 12/13/06).
Where's my Feeder? In case you missed last week's issue, Bottom Feeder is history, headed to the dark side of the bay to write exposés about marauding rich kids in Presidio Heights. This week we debut Full Disclosure, which follows in Feeder's proud footsteps to investigate hypocrisy, corruption, public waste, conflicts of interest, and general outrageousness, and to reveal the stories behind the stories you may have read in your local dailies, if indeed you still read anything other than The Onion and the captions that accompany YouTube videos.
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