Following FBI raid, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao declares innocence, won't resign

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao spoke publicly on Monday for the first time since FBI agents raided her home last week, defiantly declaring that she is innocent and that she won't step down from her post.

"I want to be crystal clear," Thao said at a news conference at City Hall. "I have done nothing wrong."

Speaking in a voice that ranged from steely to shaky, Thao said: "I have not been charged with a crime, and I am confident that I will not be charged with a crime because I am innocent."

Shortly after the press conference, her attorney, Tony Brass, officially withdrew from representing her, though the mayor suggested that it was she who let him go over the weekend. It wasn't immediately clear what happened, but Thao said she would announce her new legal counsel once the deal was finalized.  

In her roughly 10-minute speech to the public, Thao added that she is seeking answers from the U.S. Attorney's Office about why her home was searched and why she wasn't afforded an opportunity to cooperate voluntarily with the FBI search. 

She said that when the FBI agents executed a search warrant on her Maiden Lane home last Thursday that she shares with her partner, Andre Jones, she thought the "worst had happened" and that her choice to serve the city as a public official had threatened the physical safety of her family. 

Thao questioned the timing of the pre-dawn search as well, two days after critics submitted enough signatures to put a recall of her on a ballot measure. 

"The timing of all this is troubling," she said, "and we should all be concerned. I want to know more about the handful of billionaires from San Francisco and from Piedmont who are hellbent on running me out of office. I want to know why, following the qualification of a recall election funded by some of the richest people in the Bay Area, seemed like the right day to execute a warrant."

To be clear, the FBI is not involved in the recall of the mayor and as experts, including her former attorney, Tony Brass, have pointed out, searching a person's home often comes after extensive research and convincing a judge that there is probable cause to do so.

All weekend long, critics called for Thao to address the raid, saying she can't hide from the public search of her home.

The calls continued through Monday morning. 

"It's time for her to face the music," said a recall organizer, retired Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte. "She's never going to survive the recall if she thinks that all the people who signed the recall are part of some conspiracy against her."

But Thao offered no indication that she would resign.

"I'm not going down like that," she said at the news conference. "The people who voted for me deserve to have their voices heard. I will not be bullied, and I will not be disparaged, and I will not be threatened out of this office." 


Who are the Duongs, the family at the center of the FBI Oakland probe?

Not only did the FBI raid Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao's home on Thursday, but they searched three other locations connected to a politically powerful family. So, who are the Duongs?

Thao also promised full transparency.

But she took no questions, saying it was on the advice of her former attorney, who last week told KTVU that he had no indication that Thao is the target of any FBI investigation. Since Brass said he had no idea that Thao was going to hold a news conference, it was not immediately clear on whose advice Thao was following. 

To date, Thao has not been arrested or charged with any crime and the FBI would not say why they were at her home or what they were looking for. 

The FBI also searched three other properties related to the politically connected Duong family, who owns Cal Waste Recycling. 

Thao went to Vietnam last summer with the Vietnamese American Business Association, which organized the trip. Several of the Duongs are on the board of that association. 

She is certainly not the only lawmaker or politician associated with the Duongs. 

Several other politicians went on that junket and have received campaign contributions from the Duongs, who are still under investigation from the Fair Political Practices Commission. 

In a company statement to KTVU, the Duongs said that they are also cooperating with the FBI and that they haven't done anything illegal or improper. 

During Monday's news conference, Thao referenced how she's being targeted and said that it's likely because she isn't rich and powerful. She never once mentioned the Duongs by name. 

"What I do know is that this wouldn't have gone down the way it did if I was rich," she said, "if I had gone to elite private schools or if I had come from money."

She said she knows this "for sure," because former elected officials – whom she didn't name – are "sitting safely in their houses in the hills right now with campaign finance violations piling up mountains of evidence that prove actual wrongdoing." 

Who she was referring to exactly was not made clear. 

But The Oaklandside reported that former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff is being investigated by the Public Ethics Commission for allegedly controlling a political committee called The Oakland Fund to raise funds for Measure AA that she helped create. Schaff did not respond to repeated attempts to contact her, The Oaklandside reported. 

Thao said she is enduring "one of the hardest moments" in her life.

But as a mother, a fighter and a survivor, Thao vowed to honor her parents' hopes for her.

"They never could have imagined that their daughter would one day be mayor of Oakland," Thao said. "I am my ancestors' wildest dreams. And I am your mayor." 

KTVU's Allie Rasmus and O. Gloria Okorie contributed to this report.