Embattled Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao may have received donations through a campaign money laundering scheme that could be the root of last week’s FBI raid of her home. But of the 93 alleged illegal donations, some may have gone to top backers of the Recall Sheng Thao campaign too.    

Now seven days after last week’s stunning FBI raid on Mayor Sheng Thao’s home, we still do not know why the FBI seized evidence from her home. And it is very possible, as Thao claims, that she’s not a target of the investigation at all.

But there’s an emerging consensus among local news outlets investigating this bombshell that the raid is likely related to illegal campaign money laundering schemes involving donations to Thao and others from Oakland’s recycling pick-up contractor Cal Waste Solutions, the company's CEO David Duong, his son Andy Duong. Both of those gentlemen had their homes raided by the FBI the very same day as Thao's last week, as did the headquarters of Cal Waste Solutions.

These allegations have been under investigation for years by the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the Oakland Public Ethics Commission. They’ve alleged that the Duongs have been funneling illegal campaign donations through “straw donors,” concealing the true source of the contributions, and in violation of conflict-of-interest rules. These donations often came from people who only had a few dollars in their bank accounts, yet were somehow (allegedly) paid large sums by the Duongs immediately after writing the checks.

The Chronicle cites a 2021 California Fair Political Practices Commission report in their latest report on the matter today. “[Andy] Duong was the true source of at least 93 contributions to multiple local campaign committees when he created a campaign contribution laundering scheme to benefit (Cal Waste Solutions), reimbursing campaign contributions made at his behest, using the names of intermediaries instead of his own,” the commission wrote at the time.

These alleged shady donations were way back from Thao’s 2018 city council campaign. The report claims Thao’s campaign pulled nearly $10,000 in the form of 13 contributions from so-called straw donors, with Duong and Cal Waste Solutions (CWS) being the real source of the donations.

The Chronicle’s report is a follow-up on Oaklandside’s reporting on the Duongs’ extensive political contributions, which from 2016 to 2018 also spread $67,000 to the Oakland City Council campaigns of Desley Brooks, Abel Guillen, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and Larry Reid. (Heck, the Doungs have even given money to the Trump presidential campaign.) The 2021 California Fair Political Practices Commission report alleges that Andy Duong “had cash in a drawer in his CWS office” to hand to straw donors if they agreed to funnel it into their own supposed campaign donations.

Parenthetically, would Trump pardon the Duongs if he won the presidency? It’s not out of the question — they gave him money!

Speaking of the November elections, which will also include the Recall of Sheng Thao measure, Thao’s vanquished 2022 opponent Loren Taylor told KRON4 that he’s probably running for mayor again if Thao is recalled. Taylor lost the mayorship to Thao in 2022 by a mere 677 votes in ranked-choice voting. “You will likely see my name on the next mayoral election ballot,” he said to KRON4.

His first volley may be embedded in a Wednesday Dan Noyes KGO report on a possibly illegally funded 2022 campaign mailer. Taylor claims his skin was darkened in the mailer as a subtle racist attack. (The image is above, judge for yourself, it may be more just made “splotchy.”) Taylor’s complaints seem the normal sour grapes of a defeated candidate who sees an outstanding opportunity to win the race in a do-over.

But Noyes uncovered some far more alarming aspects to the mailer. It was paid for by real estate agent Mario Juarez who’s now facing felony charges for bouncing the check to the mailer’s printer, and even Sheng Thao’s former chief of staff says Juarez took under-the-table money from Andy Duong specifically to pay for the mailer.

"That was the first time I ever saw Mario, and I was like, what is he doing here?" that former chief of staff Renia Webb told KGO. "And he straight up said he needed $25,000 to finish that mail piece and I walked away... because I knew that they shouldn't even be dealing with that or talking about that type of stuff."

So this all seems like catnip for the Recall Sheng Thao campaign and its supporters, right? Maybe. Or maybe some of them could get bit in the ass by all of this as well.

Consider US Congressional candidate Jennifer Tran, who’s running against Lateefah Simon for Barbara Lee’s congressional seat. Tran is very active in the Recall Sheng Thao campaign and the Neighbors Together Oakland group behind it. It also so happens that her father Phuc Tran is alleged to have made one of the alleged straw donations to the tune of $5,000.

Dan Noyes confronted Tran about this during her press conference meant to condemn Sheng Thao on Thursday. After all, Tran has received significant contributions from the Duongs for her campaign. And oh, it is must-see TV when Noyes asks her a few pointed questions about this. (Things get hot at the 1:33 mark in the video below.)

Noyes asks, “How much have the Duongs donated to your campaign for this election cycle? And two, will you return it?"

After a fair amount of stammering and deflection, Tran says "3300."

As KGO reports, “Our check of the records show a total of $13,200 from the Duongs.”

The FBI investigation is clearly awful news for Mayor Thao's bid to keep her job in November. It may also be awful news for other East Bay politicians, and time will tell how many.

Related: We’re Getting Clues On Why the FBI Raided Sheng Thao’s Home, and Other Oakland Politicians Might Be Worried Too [SFist]

Image: OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 23: Coalition for Community Engagement's Edward Escobar leads a chant during a protest outside city hall in reaction to Mayor Sheng Thao's absence since the FBI raided her home on June 23, 2024 in Oakland, California. (Footage by Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images)