Friday, August 31, 2018

Judge Recommends $8,625 Penalty Against Oakland Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney for Ethics Violations

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Aug 31, 2018 at 6:14 PM

Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
  • Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
An administrative law judge is recommending that Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney pay a $8,625 penalty for violating ethics laws. McElhaney received gifts from a restricted source in excess of legal limits, made government decisions in which she had a personal financial interest, and did not disclose valuable gifts on her annual financial disclosure form.

The violations and recommended penalty all stem from McElhaney's interference in a townhouse development. In 2014, developer Robert Brecht submitted plans to the city to build a five-unit townhouse project on 32nd Street. McElhaney and her husband objected to the project because it was next to their home and they felt it was poorly designed and would reduce their privacy.

To oppose the project at a planning commission hearing, McElhaney recruited Morten Jensen from the architectural firm JRDV. Jensen ended up providing McElhaney with expert assistance by offering up alternative designs to the planning commission and Brecht's architect.

According to Melissa Crowell, the judge who recently reviewed the matter and conducted a two-day hearing that included testimony from McElhaney, Jensen and others, the councilmember ended up accepting services worth about $800 from Jensen and JRDV.

But at the same time, McElhaney was voting to approve valuable city contracts with JRDV.

As the Express previously reported, and as Crowell stated in her report, which was made public earlier today, "approximately one month after receiving the services from JRDV, respondent voted in her capacity as a city councilmember to increase the city's contract with JRDV by approximately $10,000."

Because JRDV was doing business with the city, McElhaney was limited to accepting gifts worth no more than $50 from Jensen and the company. She also never reported any gifts from Jensen or JRDV on her annual statement of economic interest forms filed with the city clerk.

McElhaney has fought the case for several years now and insisted that she only opposed the housing project on behalf of her neighbors. But no neighbors have ever stepped forward and said they asked McElhaney to intervene for them.

In fact, McElhaney failed to comply with a valid subpoena issued by the Public Ethics Commission seeking records relevant to the complaint investigation. This forced the Public Ethics Commission to file a lawsuit against McElhaney in the superior court.

Crowell wrote in her report that this and other conduct by McElhaney amounted to "aggravating factors" and a refusal to cooperate.

"She was given numerous extensions of time and opportunities to comply; she told the PEC she would comply; and then repeatedly did not. There was nothing inadvertent or negligent about this conduct," wrote Crowell.

McElhaney hired the Sutton Law Firm to defend her in the case and oppose the Public Ethics Commission's first attempt to resolve the case. This caused the complaint to go before Crowell, who is an administrative law judge with the state Office of Administrative Hearings.

McElhaney has also created a legal defense fund to pay for her attorneys in the ethics case.

Crowell's findings are a recommendation. They will be considered by the Public Ethics Commission at its September 11 meeting.

Acquittal and Mistrial of Two Oakland Businessmen Accused of Rigging Federal Construction Contracts

Lance Turner was found not guilty, while the jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict in Len Turner's case.

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Aug 31, 2018 at 5:34 PM

Len Turner. - KEN EPSTEIN
  • Ken Epstein
  • Len Turner.

The trial of Len Turner and Lance Turner, two well-known Oakland businessmen who own the Turner Construction company, concluded this week in San Francisco.

A jury determined that Lance Turner was not guilty of conspiring to defraud the federal government by rigging the bidding process for a Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory construction contract in 2013. The same jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict in his brother’s case, which involved the same construction contract, therefore a mistrial was declared.

See also: Taj Reid Found Guilty of Rigging State Construction Contracts and Accepting Bribes

Len and Lance Turner were indicted in April 2017 along with six other men as part of a sprawling FBI public corruption investigation that began in 2012. Across the Bay, the probe ultimately led to the arrest and prosecution of Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow and Leland Yee, along with the prosecution of several other public officials.

In the East Bay, the feds focused on allegations of corrupt government contracting deals.

The government accused the Turner brothers of helping to rig the bidding process on the LBL project in order to steer the contract to another man who called himself William Joseph.

William Joseph was actually an FBI informant whose real name is William Myles. The FBI paid him an undisclosed sum to work the Bay Area sting operation.

Myles was introduced to the Turners by Taj Reid, the son of Oakland City Council President Larry Reid.

According to court records, in September 2013 Myles laid out a plan to Taj Reid: He claimed to have the inside track on a multimillion-dollar construction project at the Berkeley lab. He told Reid that the man in charge of deciding the contract would award it to his company, but he needed someone else to submit a fake bid at a higher amount to provide cover.

Reid agreed to go along with the scheme. He allegedly acted as the go-between for Myles and the Turners. The government alleged that Reid and Myles eventually convinced the Turners to submit the false bid on the Berkeley lab project in exchange for promises from Myles that he would help the Turners obtain more business in the future.

Earlier this year, Reid was convicted of a similar, but unrelated fraud when a jury found that he took bribes from Myles to help the undercover FBI operative pursue veterans housing contracts in Southern California. After being convicted of this unrelated fraud, Reid then pleaded guilty to conspiring with the Turners to rig the Lawrence Berkeley Lab construction contract.

But despite Reid's apparent guilt and acquiescence to the charge that he conspired with the Turner brothers, the Turners maintained their innocence all along.

Len and Lance Turner contend that the bid they submitted on the Lawrence Berkeley Lab construction contract wasn't phony.

The jury sided with Lance and declined to return a unanimous verdict regarding Len. It's unclear if the government will attempt to retry Len Turner.

Attorneys for Len and Lance Turner didn’t immediately return phone calls today. The U.S. Attorneys Office’s spokesperson did not answer the phone and their voicemail box was full.

But in briefs to the court over the past year, attorneys for Len and Lance Turner wrote that their clients were wrongfully swept up in the corruption probe and entrapped by Myles.

They also claimed that Myles targeted the Turners because they are Black.

In fact, Myles, who is also Black, has a long history as a paid FBI operative of targeting Black politicians and business leaders. He most recently was employed by the FBI to pursue a corruption case against Maryland state Senator Nathaniel Oaks. He previously helped the FBI go after politicians and business people in Louisiana, Connecticut, and other states.

As the defense attorneys alleged in a motion submitted to the court last March:

"Mr. Joseph, under that alias and others, has spent the last decade as a well-paid operative of the FBI, earning over a million dollars endeavoring to persuade African Americans, most often public officials, to commit criminal offenses. The tool of his trade is lying, at which he is quite skilled. In addition to false claims of great financial resources and professional achievement, the CHS’s lies often involve heartfelt descriptions of his intention to serve the interests of the local African American community. Sometimes the subjects of the CHS’s inducements are those with a reputation for corruption. But the path to targeting the Turners, individuals with no prior record of dishonesty or misconduct, was random and fortuitous."

After-School Supper Is the Latest Casualty of Oakland Unified Budget Cuts

While slashing the nutritional program is as impactful as recently announced cuts to sports programs, it’s gotten much less attention, and no one is raising money to save it.

by Daniel Lempres
Fri, Aug 31, 2018 at 1:06 PM

Without the after-school meals, students’ ability to learn may be harmed. - OUSD.ORG
  • Without the after-school meals, students’ ability to learn may be harmed.

Students who are used to eating a hot meal after school through the Oakland Unified School District’s supper program will have to go hungry this year due to budget cuts imposed by the school board. School staff say elimination of the program will negatively impact dozens of schools and thousands of students.

“Lots of families depend on the supper program,” said Angela Phung, the after-school coordinator for Manzanita Community School. “With budget cuts, students suffer first.”

At Manzanita Community School, about 70 students used to receive fresh fruit, milk, and a hot meal five evenings a week. Out of necessity, some families even brought younger siblings in to eat, Phung said.

After-school coordinators are now encouraging parents to send their children to school with snacks to replace the supper they used to receive. But this is not a sustainable solution, Phung said. In a school district where over 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and after-school programs run until 6 p.m., placing the onus of providing a more substantial meal on parents only hurts students. Nutritious meals, fresh fruit, and milk are replaced with chips and juice boxes, Phung said.

Many families simply can’t afford the extra food. And without the meals, students’ ability to learn is harmed.

“Nutrition and hunger directly impact brain development,” said Anna Johnson, a psychologist at Georgetown University, in an interview. “The availability of key nutrients affects social and intellectual growth.” Hunger also affects behavior, Johnson said. Hungry students end up distracted, frustrated, and unable to learn.

“Being hungry leads to shorter fuses and attention spans,” she added.

While the loss of sports programs due to OUSD budget cuts in June has attracted ample attention, the cuts to the supper program may be just as impactful — especially for the school district’s most vulnerable students.

The cuts to sports programs in Oakland received national press coverage and led to over $300,000 in donations in order to continue offering various athletics programs. The Raiders donated $250,000, and the A’s, Warriors, and 49ers plan to contribute as well.

The supper program’s benefits go beyond simply providing a hot meal, said Christina Gomez, mother of Oakland Technical High School students.

“When districts start to cut (things like free supper), we see more violence, we see a spike in our numbers of youth in detention, we have more unsupervised students between critical hours of the day 4-7p,” Gomez explained in an email. “We see more abuse as frustrated parents scramble to find ways to feed hungry children. Ability to focus and pay attention in class is connected to hunger. This is an issue of public health, an issue of public safety, an issue of equity.”

Gomez’s assertion is supported by a growing body of evidence linking food insecurity in low-income households to decreased test scores and increased likelihood of disciplinary infractions.

The shuttering of the supper program can also affect students indirectly, Johnson said. In situations of food insecurity, the stress of not knowing how food costs will be met can be as injurious as the hunger itself.

“Food insecurity can mean the parents are also hungry,” Johnson said. “This can lead parents to be distracted, irritable, and unresponsive.”

A slide from a June budget presentation indicated as much as $1.4 million could be cut from the district's supper program. - OUSD.ORG
  • A slide from a June budget presentation indicated as much as $1.4 million could be cut from the district's supper program.
OUSD’s $5.8 million budget cut passed in June comes on the heels of last year’s $9 million cut. According to a budget presentation from last year, approximately $1.4 million was eliminated from the district’s after-school dinner program.

Cassaundra Reed and Gwendolyn Taylor, supervisors of the supper program, say when food costs, salaries, and benefits are accounted for, the cuts may save the district just north of $1 million.

All of the 32 school sites where the program was offered were asked to reduce spending, Reed and Taylor said.

The district’s nutrition office hopes to find funding in the budget somehow in order to reconstitute the supper program. OUSD’s Chief Business Officer Marcus Battle is open to creative solutions that could save some if not all of the supper program’s sites, said Taylor and Reed.

Coordinators understand why the school board went after the supper program.

“The district has no money,” said Jimmy Lee, after-school coordinator at Edna Brewer Middle School. “Parents will have to make up for [the cuts] at home.”

Even though Edna Brewer’s supper program used to serve nearly 200 students each weekday, Lee says few families have asked about its absence. “We’re hearing more about the cuts to other programs,” Lee said.

Correction: The district reduced the supper program's budget in June of this year, not last year as this article originally stated. And the June 2018 budget cut across the entire district was $5.8 million, not $8 million.

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