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Former chief of staff for Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao alleges pay-to-play schemes

Oakland mayor's former chief of staff describes a pay-to-play administration
Oakland mayor's former chief of staff describes a pay-to-play administration 06:10

A former chief of staff for Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said the mayor should resign following the FBI raid at her home Thursday.  

While the FBI hasn't linked Thao to any kind of wrongdoing, Renia Webb -- a former confidante and chief of staff for the mayor -- is speaking out about pay-to-play allegations. She made those accusations as far back as February 2023. She has also been interviewed by FBI agents.

UPDATE 6/24/24: Defiant Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao denies any wrongdoing in 1st comments following FBI raid

Webb worked closely with Thao for a year and four months, and had access that few others had. Webb served as Thao's right-hand person working as chief of staff when Thao was the District 4 councilmember.

Webb said she volunteered and spent countless hours on Thao's mayoral campaign in 2022. She said she also led Thao's transition team after Thao won the election.

"A lot of what's coming out now is the reason I resigned shortly there after winning the election that we fought so hard to win," said Webb.

She said she was more sad than surprised about FBI agents raiding Thao's home on Thursday.

"I wasn't surprised. I was like, 'Finally. Finally, the truth is coming out,'" recalled Webb.

Webb accuses Thao's boyfriend Andre Jones of being the mastermind and running pay-to-play schemes during Thao's campaign for mayor and after she won.

"I had found out that Andre, her boyfriend, was promising people jobs in our administration, promising people appointments on different commissions and boards." said Webb.  "I definitely believe that, out of the mouth of the people that told me, they were promised positions, they were promised board positions. And [they would always say] Andre, you know? That's who they would say, 'Andre promised me this.'"

Webb claimed Jones was controlling and calling the shots. She said Thao went along with him.

"It's sad. He's making her do things, pushing her to do things that I don't believe she would do otherwise. I just really don't," said Webb.

Webb said Jones and Thao met when they worked for Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. Jones was Kaplan's chief of staff and Thao was an intern.

"When I first mentioned to Sheng, at that house that got raided [on Thursday], that people were coming to me on what Andre had promised them," explained Webb. "And her response to me was, 'Just ignore Andre. You're going to be making close to $200,000. Just ignore it.' And it just hurt my heart. I just looked at her and told her 'I don't care about the money.'"

After Thao won the election in November, Webb said she resigned on New Year's Eve 2022.  She said in early 2023, she complained to the city council and the Public Ethics Commission about the pay-to-play allegation.  

She said the council ignored her complaint. The ethics commission sent a follow-up email requesting evidence, but Webb could not produce physical evidence, so that complaint went nowhere.

Webb said Thao at the time denied all the accusations, telling others Webb was disgruntled, had mental health issues and made up lies.

"What sense would it make that I would help her win an election, run her transition team, and then all of a sudden I'd just lose my mind?" asked Webb.

The FBI contacted Webb and interviewed her for two and a half hours on February 3, 2023.  She said agents asked a lot of questions about Thao's campaign funding.

"It was about campaign contributions, about some of the appointments, like to the [Port of Oakland]," recalled Webb.  

Webb said the FBI agents did not offer specifics about their investigation at the time and she didn't know if the FBI raid is related to the pay-to-play allegation. The FBI remained tight-lipped about the raid at Thao's home.

While the FBI has not accused Thao or Jones of any wrong doing, Webb believes Thao should resign.

"I texted and told her I'm praying for her, but we still have to deal with the consequences of our behaviors.  I just hope she gets the help that she needs," said Webb.

Thao, who was already facing a recall vote, has been criticized by some parties since the raids. The Oakland chapter of the NAACP has called on the mayor to step down.   

Thao's attorney on Friday suggested Thao was not the target of the FBI investigation. CBS Bay Area News contacted the attorney about the pay-to-play allegations, but has not received a response. 

Brass withdrew from representing Thao Monday afternoon following the mayor's public statement on the FBI raids.  

CBS Bay Area News also tried to get Jones' side of the story. He has so far declined to talk to the media. It's unclear if Jones has retained a lawyer.

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