Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao speaks for first time since FBI raid at her house

Mayor Sheng Thao struck a defiant tone Monday in her first public remarks since the FBI raided her house last week — questioning federal agents’ motives and vowing that “I will not be threatened out of this office.”

“I want to be crystal clear: I have done nothing wrong,” Thao said.

Thao’s comments came four days after the FBI’s surprise raids across the city, which centered on a politically influential family in charge of the city’s contracted recycling company. Federal agents hauled numerous boxes and duffel bags stuffed with items from Thao’s Oakland Hills house, though the mayor has not been arrested or charged with a crime. Thao lives at the home with her partner, Andre Jones, who like Thao is a former chief of staff for an Oakland councilmember.

Reading from a prepared statement, Thao suggested that the situation “wouldn’t have gone down the way it did if I was rich.”

“I can tell you with confidence that this investigation is not about me,” Thao said. “I have not been charged with a crime, and I am confident I will not be charged with a crime, because I am innocent.”

Wiping a tear from her eye, she took aim at her detractors, vowing that “I’m not going down like that — we’re not going down like that.” She defended herself against the recall effort targeting her, and she wondered aloud why the raids happened so soon after the recall question qualified for the November ballot.

“The people who voted for me deserve to have their voices heard,” Thao said. “I will not be bullied, and I will not be disparaged and I will not be threatened out of this office.”

Before the press conference started, Thao’s chief of staff, Leigh Hanson, told reporters that the mayor would not be taking questions, on the advice of her attorney.

The press conference came just minutes before the planned start of a rally organized by the leaders of that effort. That rally was slated to happen outside City Hall.

Also targeted in the raids were two other houses in the Oakland Hills and a business office along the city’s waterfront Thursday morning. All three are tied to Andy Duong and his father, David, who owns the Oakland-based company California Waste Solutions, the city’s curbside recycling provider. CWS also has a contract with the city of San Jose.

FBI agents were seen at a house Viewcrest Court connected to Andy Duong, while officials wearing police vests and U.S. Postal Inspection uniforms were seen outside a home on the 12500 block of Skyline Boulevard, a property tied to David Duong.

IRS agents could be seen carrying numerous bags of items from 1211 Embarcadero, an address tied to California Waste Solutions. Also housed in that building are the offices of the Vietnamese American Business Association, where David Duong serves as chairman.

The exact documents and belongings targeted in the raids remained unclear Thursday afternoon, as did the specific focus of the federal agencies’ investigation.

Prior to Monday’s remarks, the mayor had largely disappeared from public view — even as the city barreled toward an end-of-the-month deadline to pass a budget strained by revenue deficits that city officials likened to the Great Recession of the late 2000s. In all, the revenue shortfall is expected to reach $177 million by the end of the current fiscal year in June.

The only break in silence came not from the mayor herself, but rather her attorney, Tony Brass, who told some media outlets Friday that he was given no indication by officials at the U.S. attorney’s office that Thao was a target of the raids. He added that the mayor would cooperate with the investigation and make a public statement next week. He also lamented the “optics” of a city official being searched by federal employees, adding that Thao “would have responded” had they simply asked for information.

Brass did not respond to multiple requests for comment last week from the Bay Area News Group.

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