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De La Fuente In Trouble Over Maurice Himy's Finger Pointing; People Urged To Call FBI At (800) 376-5991 Regarding Corruption In City Hall



I personally met Maurice Himy on several occasions, the first time was in 2002 when he was enjoying the first Oakland Art & Soul Festival from his store, which was right on the City Hall way. He was walking with two people: Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid. I remember the moment as if it happened yesterday, because Jerry asked me how things were going; I'd left the City of Oakland the previous year. Maurice would always say to me "Yes. Come and see me sometime" I never got around to it.


Oakland City Hall probe wide-ranging
FBI's questions have centered on 10 to 15 city contracts, officials say

By Heather MacDonald, STAFF WRITER - OAKLAND TRIBUNE

OAKLAND — The arrest of a man with close ties to several city officials is just a small part of a wide-ranging investigation by federal authorities into public corruption at Oakland City Hall, FBI officials said Thursday.

The probe is focusing on whether "City Official A" — identified as Council President Ignacio De La Fuente — or other city officials granted contracts in return for favors, said FBI spokeswoman LaRae Quy.

FBI agents have interviewed dozens of people at City Hall during the past week, including several department heads, City Council aides and City Administrator Deborah Edgerly.

"We will go where the investigation takes us," Quy said.

De La Fuente vigorously denies any wrongdoing.

Several city officials interviewed by the FBI said the questions focused on 10 to 15 city contracts and appeared to be part of an intense investigation into De La Fuente, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in June. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the FBI asked them not to speak to the news media.

The deals under scrutiny include the city's contract with Swinerton Builders to retrofit the Police Administration Building after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, sources said. It was approved unanimously by the Oakland City Council in July 2004.

In addition, agents asked about the effort to rezone the area between Tidewater Avenue and the Oakland Estuary. Earlier this week, De La Fuente voted to allow housing to be built in the now-industrial area. Last month, Carlos Plazola, De La Fuente's longtime aide, resigned to concentrate on Plazola's real estate development business, which owns property in the area, sources said.

Also being examined is a proposal made to the Port of Oakland to provide limousine service at Oakland Airport, sources said.
FBI agents also asked about council members interfering with city employees, a violation of the City Charter, which requires them to go throughEdgerly rather than contacting staff directly. A majority of the council members routinely go around Edgerly to get pet projects moving or to gather information, officials said.

Despite the wide range of topics brought up by the FBI, several people who were interviewed said the investigation felt focused on elected officials and not at all like a fishing expedition.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Corrigan told a federal magistrate Thursday he expects Maurice Himy, the former owner of a clothing store on Oakland City Hall Plaza, to be indicted on extortion and public corruption charges next week.

After the court hearing, Himy declined to comment, but his attorney, William L. Osterhoudt, told reporters he expects his client to be cleared.

"He is a fine person and a credit to the community," Osterhoudt said. He declined to discuss the specific allegations against his client.

Himy, 59, is due back in court Sept. 29. The San Rafael man is accused of telling an Oakland businessman, who wanted a contract to auction the city's surplus vehicles and other property, that he could get him the deal in return for cash because of his connection to De La Fuente and other city officials.

According to an FBI affidavit, Himy referred to Oakland as "Moneytown" and told Cooper that unless he was paid he would "kill the contract." At first, Himy demanded a percentage of the contract's revenue, but later asked for $65,000 total to be paid in monthly installments.

De La Fuente said he contacted Bill Noland, director of the city's Finance and Management Agency, about Cooper's bid for the $30,000 auctioneering contract in an effort to ensure that city contracts went to local companies as often as possible.

Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) also contacted Noland on Cooper's behalf, but was told the businessman submitted his bid for the contract four minutes too late.

Cooper won the contract after bid specifications were changed to require the cars and equipment to be auctioned in Oakland, ensuring the city would reap the sales tax revenue generated by the sales. He submitted the lowest bid.

However, the only auction Cooper held — to resell about 30 vehicles and other equipment — was plagued with trouble from the beginning, and had to be postponed after Cooper initially failed to adequately notice the auction.

Afterward, Cooper reported that one car and six street sweepers sold for prices lower than those recorded by city officials and the purchasers, Noland said. The discrepancy, which has not been resolved, totaled $21,725, he added.

The contract was terminated after city officials discovered Cooper did not have a valid state license to resell cars, Noland said.

Cooper, the former executive director of the sister city association between Oakland and Santiago de Cuba, contributed $600 to De La Fuente's mayoral bid and volunteered for the campaign.

Cooper referred questions to his attorney, John Burris, who called him a victim of extortion.

In 1995, Cooper was convicted of making false statements to the government while applying for reimbursement for property damage caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake and sentenced to 41 months in prison, officials said.

Quy praised Cooper for coming forward, calling him brave, and said Cooper had been completely forthcoming about his background.

According to the FBI, Cooper was not the first person Himy demanded money from to make a deal happen. In November 2003, an unidentified developer was weighing whether to buy a 120,000-square-foot office building, and wanted to know whether the Oakland Police Department was interested in renting the building.

After approaching an unidentified aide to a former Oakland mayor, the developer met with an unidentified Oakland police officer and Himy about the building, according to the FBI. A few days later, Himy asked the developer for a $150,000 fee, saying "this is how things are done in town."

The developer declined to pay Himy, and never purchased the building.

Jacques Barzaghi, Mayor Jerry Brown's longtime confidant and senior aide, was heavily involved in the search for a new police headquarters, prompted by the seismic risk to the Police Administration Building, officials said. Barzaghi, who was fired by Brown in June 2004, and Himy are close friends.

At the same time the FBI contends Himy was extorting Cooper, he was having a hard time paying the rent for his store, Spaccio. A temporary rent reduction kept the store open for about a year, but city officials evicted Himy and his partner this March after business did not improve, said Frank Fanelli, manager of the city's real estate services division.

Himy owes the city $165,000 in back rent and $16,500 in penalties, Noland said. The debt has been sent to a collection agency, officials said.

In March, FBI agents interviewed several council members as part of the agency's investigation into state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, focusing on whether he ever pressured them to steer contracts to his friends and business associates. Perata and De La Fuente are close allies. Perata denies any wrongdoing.

Anyone with information about corruption at Oakland City Hall is asked to call the FBI hot line at (800) 376-5991.
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