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Oakland FBI raids: City workers told to preserve records tied to Mayor Sheng Thao’s partner following subpoena

Oakland FBI raids: City workers told to preserve records tied to Mayor Sheng Thao’s partner following subpoena

OAKLAND – City Attorney Barbara Parker has asked City Hall staffers to preserve numerous records in response to a federal grand jury subpoena, including documents related to Mayor Sheng Thao’s partner Andre Jones, according to a memo obtained by this news organization.

The internal letter Parker emailed last week said the subpoena is “in connection with the United States government’s criminal investigation relating to California Waste Solutions and the Duong family.”

“The City is obligated to retain all records that may be relevant to this subpoena,” she wrote.

Parker’s memo reveals for the first time the existence of a federal grand jury, which meets behind closed doors to consider whether there is enough evidence to file charges or indictments, in the wake of the June 20 FBI raid of a home shared by Thao and Jones.

The agency also raided two residences tied to Oakland businessmen David Duong and Andy Duong, as well as the headquarters of their recycling company, California Waste Solutions.

Federal investigators have not said what they were searching for or what they are focusing on. But Parker’s email, which was sent to an unknown number of City Hall workers, more clearly shows what the U.S. Attorney’s Office may be after.

Among the records required to be preserved are “all documents and communications concerning Andre Jones,” and any “calendar entries and documents relating to planned or scheduled meetings” with Thao or Jones from June 2022 to the present. The San Francisco Chronicle first reported on Parker’s memo.

Andre Jones at Sheng Thao’s inauguration as the 51st mayor of Oakland at the Paramount Theater in Oakland in 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

In an interview with KPIX, Mayor Thao again insisted that she is not the subject of the FBI’s investigation. When asked about Jones’ possible involvement, she declined to comment and advised that anyone asking should instead contact the federal investigators and the U.S Attorney’s Office.

But Jones’ appearance in the internal city memo signals he or his activities may be of interest to the federal grand jury, which could shift the public’s scrutiny from the mayor to her romantic partner, who rarely accompanies her in planned public appearances, but is well-known in Oakland’s political circles.

Jones could not be immediately reached for comment, and it’s unclear if he has retained an attorney. The mayor’s personal counsel, Jeff Tsai, said Monday he is not representing Jones.

No charges have been announced in the FBI’s inquiry.

Records that fall under the preservation order are “documents and communications concerning” the following:

California Waste Solutions and its employees and representatives
The use or development of the former Oakland Army Base
Any actual or contemplated declarations of a local emergency relating to homelessness
Any actual or contemplated contracts between the city and any waste-management company
Evolutionary Homes LLC and its employees or representatives
The city’s policies and practices relating to the retention and destruction of documents

The types of records employees are being asked to keep are social media posts, text messages, voicemails, calendars, word-processing files and spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, handwritten notes, memos, faxes, drawings, photographs and audio and video recordings.

Other records being sought appear to be more closely tied to the mayor’s office: “all documents and communications relating to any appointments to any City of Oakland post or position” and “all documents or communications concerning the 2022 City mayoral election.”

Evolutionary Homes is a business run by the politically connected Duong family that aims to build homes from shipping containers for homeless families. It was founded alongside Mario Juarez, a political operative and two-time Oakland City Council candidate who is alleged to have been at the center of controversial mailers targeting Thao’s rivals in the days leading up to the 2022 mayoral election Thao ultimately won.

Juarez was charged with a felony earlier this year after prosecutors say he wrote bogus checks to pay for the mailers. More recently, he was assaulted and shot at in the days and weeks before the FBI raids in attacks that remain under investigation by Oakland police, according to his attorney and authorities.

Numerous elected officials, former political staffers and local business officials said they had been familiar with Jones for several years but didn’t know much about him outside of his previous role as Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s chief of staff.

But Jones, who served in the mid-1990s as a political consultant for the San Francisco 49ers, seemingly built enough connections in California to land an appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017 to a role in the Bureau of Cannabis Control, just as the state’s legal pot industry was getting started in earnest.

It was in the office of Kaplan — a longtime progressive councilmember who previously ran twice for mayor and once for a county supervisor seat — that Jones and Thao met in 2012, when he was the chief of staff and she was an intern who’d just graduated from UC Berkeley.

The two have now been in a relationship for a decade and live in a family home just below Joaquin Miller Park.

Amid rumors circulating among her opponents, Thao’s representatives said Jones has never worked for the mayor’s administration or received special benefits for being her partner, such as special access to City Hall offices.

But Jones is no stranger to the East Bay’s convoluted political landscape. After serving as Kaplan’s chief of staff, he took a job in 2016 as a regional director for the California Charter Schools Association, partnering with wealthy investor Ron Beller to build a new, independently run school at a vacant campus site in Richmond.

As with most charter schools, the idea proved unpopular among the United Teachers of Richmond labor group. An extended fight over the proposed school — which ultimately wasn’t built — led Jones to be seen as an unwelcome disruptor of the existing school district.

Still, several prominent members of the group opposing the charter plan do not remember Jones as much more than a quiet presence flanking Beller, a former Goldman Sachs partner who had just moved to the Bay Area from London.

Jones’ role with the Bureau of Cannabis Control ended in 2021, around the time that the agency was revamped to become the California Department of Cannabis Control, the state agency said.

Shomik Mukherjee is a reporter covering Oakland. Call or text him at 510-905-5495, or email him at smukherjee@bayareanewsgroup.com.