Thursday’s FBI raid on Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao’s house appears to be part of a larger investigation of Oakland’s trash pick-up contractor, and this thing might be a Mohammed Nuru-caliber scandal that ensnares many more politicians in Oakland — and beyond.

When the FBI raided the home of Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao on Thursday, the big obvious question on everyone’s minds was “Why did the FBI raid the home of Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao?” We still don’t know for sure. But we’ll start with another question that would seem completely irrelevant. If you’re familiar with trash and recycling costs in both Oakland and San Francisco, you may have wondered “Why are trash and recycling costs so much more expensive in Oakland compared to San Francisco?”  

These two questions might be highly correlated. As KTVU notes, the federal agents also simultaneously raided the offices of Cal Waste Solutions, who handle trash and recycling pick-up for Oakland and San Jose, and describe themselves as the “largest recycling company in Northern California.” Oaklandside reports that the FBI also raided the homes of Cal Waste Solutions CEO David Duong and his son Andy Duong. That site also dug up a ton of social media posts (many embedded throughout this article) showing just how politically active the father-and-son team are. The Chronicle describes son Andy Duong as “a prolific donor to both Democratic and Republican officials, political action committees and state parties across the country.”

“They’re operators. They’re pretty high-profile,” political consultant Jim Ross told the Chronicle. “They’re in an industry that really depends on relationships with elected officials. They have really aligned with whoever they think can get them contracts.”

KTVU reports that neighbors “saw two people put in handcuffs” in the raid at one of the Duong’s homes. But Politico has the details of the raid on Thao’s house: It started at 6 am Thursday morning, Thao was escorted out of the home by FBI agents, and the FBI’s San Francisco office merely told that outlet they were conducting “court-authorized law enforcement activity on Maiden Lane.”

Oaklandside notes that Cal Waste Solutions got the billion-dollar contract to collect Oakland’s trash and recycling in 2014. But they faced a lawsuit from the city in 2017 for overcharging customers by as much as 550%. (They settled the lawsuit with a $6 million payment in 2021.)

Then in 2019, the Oakland Public Ethics Commission launched an investigation into illegal campaign contributions to Thao and several other Oakland City Council candidates, as Oaklandside reported. Cal Waste Solutions was accused of laundering campaign contributions through “straw donors,” therefore avoiding campaign donation limits.

Oaklandside reported in 2020 that the Oakland Public Ethics Commission found $51,000 worth of these potential illegal donations to various council members. One of these alleged straw donors was insurance broker and then-president of the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce Phuc Tran, who made a potentially illegal $5,000 contribution. The Chronicle notes that Tran’s daughter Jennifer Tran is now the president of that organization, and happens to be running for that region’s US House of Representatives seat against Lateefah Simon. So this cannot be welcome news for Jennifer Tran’s campaign.

As the Chronicle also points out, the seemingly illegal contributions all happened while the overcharging lawsuit was being negotiated with the City of Oakland. You can draw your own conclusions on that.

David Duong is also the co-chair of the Vietnamese American Business Association, which sponsored a junket to Vietnam for Thao and other staffers in the summer of 2023. Alameda County Supervisor Lena Tam and Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez, as well as their staffs, also went on that trip.

Per the Chronicle, the “Vietnamese American Business Association paid $12,000 a person to cover the business class flights, five-star hotel accommodations, meals and transportation for Thao, the port commissioners and staffers.”

For their part, California Waste Solutions spokesperson and Vietnamese American Business Association director (hmmm, she works for them both?) Teresa Hoang told the Chronicle,  “We are fully aware of the raid, and we’re fully cooperating” with the investigation. She added, “We’re confident that the results will show we are not doing anything unlawful or improper."

Update (June 21. 2:50 pm): We still have not heard from Mayor Thao, but her attorney has made a public statement. “It’s unfortunate that the mayor did not receive any request for information from the authorities, because she would have responded, and she would have cooperated,” her lawyer Anthony Brass said, according to the Chronicle. “And now, the optics of an elected official having a search warrant executed on her residence suggests wrongdoing. I hope that everyone will reserve judgment until this can be sorted out.”

Mrandyduong via Instagram

Thao’s political enemies are justifiably making hay of all this. But maybe they ought to be cautious. Above we see Thao’s rival and former Oakland City Councilmember Loren Taylor, who absolutely wants Thao’s job. Note he is pictured here hugging Andy Duong, which indicates Taylor might be neck-deep in Duong trouble, too.  

Oh, and we have not yet mentioned there is a vote on whether to recall Sheng Thao scheduled for November 5!

"The recall will get steam from this, and it really places her in a position where she's gonna have to make some tough decisions very, very soon," unaffiliated political consultant Brian Sobel told KTVU.

Translation: Sheng Thao might be forced to resign (or possibly arrested?) before that recall election even happens.

Related: FBI Agents Raid Home of Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao [SFist]

Image: @wnbagoldenstate via Twitter