FBI Visits City Hall

The federal investigation of local political boss Don Perata closes in on Oakland City Hall as councilmembers are questioned.

After FBI agents showed up at Oakland City Hall this week to interview councilmembers, political insiders began to wonder whether federal prosecutors are finally close to indicting state Senate President Don Perata on corruption charges. The FBI talked with Nancy Nadel on Monday, and is scheduled to interview Desley Brooks on Wednesday. A source said Larry Reid was questioned by the feds earlier this week.

Nadel would not discuss the specifics of the interview, nor would she reveal how long it lasted. “They just asked me if I knew of any illegal activity,” said Nadel, who is running for mayor. Brooks also would not discuss what the FBI wanted to talk to her about. Reid did not return a phone call seeking comment on his interview; one rumor swirling around City Hall was that Reid badly needed a cigarette after his sit-down with the FBI.

While Perata spends most of his time in Sacramento running the state Senate, he has considerable juice to get things done for his developer buddies in Oakland. City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente is his closest political ally, and several other councilmembers count on his support and fund-raising prowess at election time.

It’s been nearly eighteen months since a federal grand jury started issuing subpoenas in the sprawling Perata investigation. The probe began when an ex-boyfriend of a former Perata aide, Lily Hu, accused her of facilitating kickbacks. At the time, Hu was a powerful Oakland lobbyist whose client list included many of Perata’s closest friends and largest campaign contributors. The feds have searched the home of the Oakland Democrat and that of his son, Nick, and have subpoenaed documents from several public agencies including BART and Caltrans. Most recently, the FBI demanded records from the Port of Oakland, the city of Alameda, and the Alameda County Transportation Authority, searching for links between Perata and a Washington lobbyist to whom the senator steered lucrative work (see cover story “Road to Nowhere,” March 1).

Perata and Hu have denied wrongdoing. Perata spokesman Jason Kinney has repeatedly called the investigation a mile wide and an inch deep. Perata nonetheless has taken the probe seriously, spending $742,389 last year on legal expenses, state records show.

While FBI spokeswoman LaRae Quy refused to comment on whether the federal investigation had spread to Oakland City Hall, this week’s interviews appear to mark the first time the FBI has talked directly with East Bay pols in connection with the Perata investigation. The development could indicate that the feds are wrapping up their probe. “In general, interviews of political figures tend to be near the end of an investigation,” said San Francisco attorney Eric Havian, a former federal prosecutor. Why? Havian said there are several reasons, with one having to do with loose lips. Everyone knows politicians can’t keep a secret. After all, it took the Express less than a day to learn of the City Hall sit-downs.

Chronicle and Bonds

Did anyone other than Feeder find it weird that the first excerpt of the BALCO book written by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada ran in Sports Illustrated? The excerpt, which detailed the extent of Barry Bonds’ alleged steroid use and why he started juicing, dominated sports-talk broadcasts around the country last week.

Chron management, of course, gave the two scribes time off to write their book, Game of Shadows, which they based on the stories they’d previously broken in the paper. You’d think the Chron might want first dibs. Judging from interviews with Williams and Chron managing editor Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal, there was perhaps some tension over Sports Illustrated getting the excerpt. Hard to say for sure, since both writer and editor were wary. Williams said he thought Rosie was cool with things generally. He did concede that management might not have been so satisfied with how it all turned out, but didn’t elaborate.

Rosenthal suggested that the book’s publisher, Gotham, thought the hardback would get the most pop from running in a national mag first. “We had different recourses that we chose not to take, in part because we didn’t want to hurt Mark or Lance,” Rosenthal told Feeder. By “recourses,” did he mean legal action? Rosie wouldn’t say.

Feeder then asked the editor if it was fair to say that he was displeased or disappointed that the excerpt ran in SI first? No, Rosie said, that wouldn’t be fair. “You could say,” he replied, “we were very happy for the reaction and happy for Mark and Lance, and we’re looking forward to … running our own excerpts.”

Sure, and politicians invariably resign to spend more time with their families. In any case, great job, boys. It was good reading no matter where it ran first.

No Clean Sweep

Oakland City Auditor Roland Smith is questioning dozens of $48 street-sweeping parking tickets issued on a city holiday last month. Smith says his investigator told him about drivers getting tickets for parking in spots on Monday, February 13, during times designated for street sweeping. But, as Smith points out, such zones all exempt holidays from the parking restrictions.

This is where things get tricky, so pay attention.

The holiday in question is Lincoln’s birthday, which Oakland city employees have off. It’s on February 12 — which fell on a Sunday this year. But Smith points out that city traffic codes say that when an official city holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday “is a holiday,” and by his reckoning people shouldn’t have been ticketed. To add insult to parking ticket, he says, no street sweeping was done on that day. In a March 1 letter he fired off to public-works spokeswoman Jeanette Edgerly, Smith groused that the city had even issued a press release alerting local media that there would be no parking enforcement on the day in question.

City parking ticket apologists say Smith is way off base. According to Bill Nolan, the city finance director, Oakland officials never sent out such a press release, although the local media did report that city offices would be closed February 13. Edgerly, meanwhile, says that Monday was not a parking or street-sweeping holiday, and that the sweeping crews were working as usual. She adds that the city’s Web site clearly excludes Lincoln’s birthday from the list of parking-enforcement freebie days. Feeder checked — it’s true. Dang.

Sorry to say it, all you parking scofflaws: It looks as if there’ll be no refund coming your way anytime soon. But Smith is still pushing city parking police to give refunds to drivers ticketed on the day in question. In fact, Smith says he’s consulted with the city’s lawyers about his interpretation of the rules. “The city attorney’s office agrees with us,” he sniffs.

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