AG Bonta, Trump among politicians who received most from Oakland family tied to FBI corruption probe

AG Bonta, Assm. Bonta, & Rep. Schiff told the I-Team they'll donate a combined $200K from the Duong family to California charities

Wednesday, July 3, 2024
AG Bonta, Trump among politicians who received most from Duong family
California AG Rob Bonta and Donald Trump are among politicians who have received the most from the Duong family amid a FBI corruption investigation.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We're learning more details about the well-connected political family that appears to be part of the FBI's corruption investigation involving Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao.

Several homes of the Duong family, as well as the home of Mayor Thao, were raided by the FBI last month. The FBI is working in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Service and the Internal Revenue Service, several sources confirmed to ABC News.

The Duong family owns California Waste Solutions, which is a large commercial and residential recycling company servicing Oakland and San Jose. The company is operated by David Duong.

According to allegations by the Fair Political Practices Commission, David's son Andy was behind a campaign contribution laundering scheme. Documents allege Andy "was the true source of at least 93 contributions to multiple campaign committees when he created a campaign contribution laundering scheme to benefit his family-owned company."

RELATED: Report alleges 'campaign contribution laundering scheme' involving Oakland mayor, city officials

The FPPC says the political committees targeted were candidates running for city council, including Milpitas City Councilman Anthony Phan and former Oakland City Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Abel Guillen, and Sheng Thao.

"Hiding the source of the contribution, that's a big deal," said Justin Levitt, a law professor at LMU Loyola Law School who specializes in democracy law, including on rules for campaign finance. "It seems like the FPPC is zeroing in on a potential scheme to reimburse contributions, so it looks like its coming from multiple individuals when in fact it's only coming from one person over the acceptable limits. If true, that's not OK."

According to Levitt, one of the core principles of campaign finance law depends on knowing the true source of the contribution.

The FPPC document states Andy's job is "promoting the company's public image of CWS." The I-Team found he does a lot of that on social media, posting pictures with politicians at every level of government -- including President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Former President Barack Obama -- to what appears to be a familiar relationship with Attorney General Rob Bonta.

EXCLUSIVE: First-hand account of Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao donor paying to help her 2022 campaign

ABC7 News I-Team has learned Loren Taylor is preparing his campaign staff to take another run for Oakland mayor after FBI raid at Mayor Thao's home.

According to the FPPC allegations, Duong sent his father an email titled "2016 Political Analysis" that partly said, "here are my final analysis for 2016 double elections year in whom we shall support...They are all among in groups that will be best beneficial for us in the long run."

Duong's recommendations called out an alleged request from Rob Bonta to sponsor his biggest "fundraising" saying "he is one of the best ally to ever support and will deliver whatever we ask for when help needs in the future."

Levitt says a private expectation that a public official may do well for that family or a company in the future doesn't necessarily translate to any wrong doing by the public official.

ABC7's data analysis of local, state and federal campaign finance data found the average contribution the Duong family and entities made to Oakland, state and federal politicians was over $5,000.

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AG Rob Bonta received nearly 30 times more than that with a total of $155,100 in donations from the family and associates. That figure combined with contributions to Bonta's wife, Assemblymember Mia Bonta, bring that total to $172,316.45.

"That signals a particular desire for this family to benefit AG Bonta and apparently at least in the FPPC's view, potentially by illegal means by hiding the true source, but it's also not unusual for people to support some candidates more, maybe much more than others," said Levitt.

The one politician who received the most from the Duongs' is former President Donald Trump with contributions totaling more than $300,000.

Following our story, a representative from Bonta's campaign told the I-Team they've chosen to donate all $155,100 from the Duongs to worthy California charities and advocacy organizations, out an abundance of caution.

The I-Team was told five charities will receive approximately $31,000, including Youth Alive, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, Giffords, Moms Demand Action, and the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence.

Assemblymember Mia Bonta's campaign spokesperson reported the same. We received the following statement: "We are methodically identifying any contributions that may have been issues based on recent media reports. Corresponding amounts will be donated to charities that include the Family Violence Law Center, the Native American Health Center and Reproductive Freedom for All."

RELATED: East Bay congressional candidate addresses alleged corruption, faces tough questions from I-Team

Other politicians are also planning on donating the received funds. Congressman Adam Schiff's campaign told the I-Team they'll be donating $26,000 to local nonprofits helping address housing and homelessness.

Rep. Barbara Lee received at least $61,950 and Rep. Eric Swalwell received at least $29,800, but neither campaign responded to our requests for comment.

"It's not at all uncommon for the officials to disavow those founds or to turn them over to charity," Levitt said.

Documents obtained by the I-Team show the FPPC sent letters to the Duong family for reportedly failing to file "Major Donor Campaign Statements", which are contributions more than $10,000 as well as forms required to discern any possible conflict of interest, specifically trips, gifts, stocks, money, and ties with business entities.

"If the allegations prove correct, that would be concerning not only because that would deprive the public of information they would need on the structure of support for elected officials, but also the potential conflicts in those officials actions," Levitt said. "The allegations are serious, but that doesn't necessarily mean there was a violation of law, that's what the process is there to determine."

According to the FPPC, the warning letters sent to the Duongs could result in further penalty up to $5,000 per violation of the Political Reform Act.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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