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Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao hires defense attorney following FBI raid on her home

Following FBI raid, Oakland mayor hires lawyer who issues statement on her behalf
Following FBI raid, Oakland mayor hires lawyer who issues statement on her behalf 04:38

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao has retained a top criminal defense attorney following Thursday's FBI raid on her home who says it is not clear that she is even the subject of the investigation.   

Attorney Tony Brass said in an interview Friday that neither he nor Thao know any details of the federal investigation but said Thao is "ready, willing and able to cooperate with authorities." He added that Thao never received a request for documents or information but she would have provided them if asked. 

About a dozen FBI agents were seen taking boxes out of Thao's home in Oakland's Lincoln Heights neighborhood Thursday hours after serving a warrant at about 5:30 a.m. The search warrant executed at her residence was the first the mayor had heard of the investigation, Brass noted.

The raid comes two days after the Alameda County Registrar of Voters certified the  signatures on a petition to recall Thao from office.

"So now that she has endured having a search warrant executed on her residence, it puts her in a very tough spot," said Brass. "The optics are bad. But the fact is that she is going to cooperate in the investigation and she would have done that in the first place."

Sheng Thao FBI raid
FBI agents raid a home on Maiden Lane where Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao allegedly lives in Oakland, Calif. Thursday, June 20, 2024. Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Brass said normally if elected officials are targeted in an investigation they are afforded the opportunity to provide information, documents or other evidence by a deadline. In this case, he said it was surprising that an unannounced raid was the action decided upon.

"Generally what happens, particularly with an elected official, they would receive a request for information. They would receive a subpoena to provide these documents, provide these letters, provide these emails by this date, we want any and all communications. And people comply with those, and the mayor certainly would have," Brass said. "I don't know enough about the investigation to say why that was necessary, why the federal government decided, well, this is the best step for our investigation. But I can say this: it doesn't necessarily appear that she's even the target of the search warrant. The search warrant was for the residence, so there may be an alternative explanation for this."

Brass said he did not have any other information about the other residents of the home or who else may be targeted in the probe.

"The more people involved in the investigation, the more complex it will be, the more discovery they will need, the more documents they are seeking," he said. "So maybe the mayor's willingness to cooperate in the investigation wasn't the issue. Maybe that's why they needed a search warrant."

Thao is currently staying away from her home but still performing her duties as mayor and will provide a public statement next week, Brass said.

"The mayor is continuing to attend to her duties as the mayor, but is distracted by the amount of press that's in front of her home. So she has relocated to a different place to get her work done," said Brass. "It means she is still running her team, her team is meeting deadlines and continuing to do the work that Oakland needs their mayor to do."

Longtime Oakland activist Cat Brooks pointed to the Mayor's opposition, calling the raid part of a broader campaign against progressive politics. 

"I don't think that we can lose sight of the fact that this raid on Mayor Thao's house happened two days after the recall was announced. And what you know as a journalist and I know as a coms person is that whether there's a there there or not, it could come out that she had nothing to do with nothing, trying to get that stench out of her and her administration, and quite honestly the left as a whole, in three months before a recall, election happens, is going to be nearly impossible," said Brooks. "People were calling for her recall before the final votes were counted. The other thing I need to say is that I am no fan of her public safety policies. I think this was a political job. I think it was done strategically and tactically." 

Federal agents also raided two Oakland homes belonging to David Duong and his son, Andrew Duong, members of the politically influential family who own California Waste Solutions (CWS), which provides curbside recycling services in Oakland. Agents also raided the company's offices which it shares with the Vietnamese American Business Association (VABA), also led by multiple members of the Duong family.

The Oakland chapter of the NAACP on Thursday called on Thao to step down following the federal raids.  

Published reports indicate that in 2019, Oakland's Public Ethics Commission and the state Fair Political Practices Commission investigated CWS and the Duong family over suspected illegal campaign contributions to city council incumbents or candidates, including Thao before she became mayor. The investigation is still ongoing.

At the time of the investigation, CWS was fighting a lawsuit from the city of Oakland accusing it of overcharging recycling customers more than 500% of what the city's contract allowed. CWS settled the lawsuit for $6 million in 2021.

Wilson Walker contributed to this story.

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