Historic indictment casts shadow
By Jason Bennert, Bay City News Service
June 23, 2006
SAN JOSE (BCN) - The long, hot summer arrived at San Jose
City Hall early Thursday morning when Ron Gonzales became the
first mayor in city history to be indicted on corruption charges,
and the heat from the scandal promises to linger into 2007.
Gonzales, 55, faces a possible eight years in prison after being
indicted by a grand jury on six felony charges alleging he secured
an additional $11.25 million for city garbage contractor Norcal
Waste Systems so that the company could pay employees of its San
Jose subcontractor under a Teamsters contract instead of a less
generous longshoremen's union contract.
Gonzales' budget director Joe Guerra faces a possible five years
and eight months in prison if convicted after being indicted on
two felony charges by the same grand jury. Norcal also was indicted
in connection with the deal.
Six members of the San Jose City Council have called upon Gonzales
to step down, but the mayor remains defiant and has sworn to remain
"There is no truth to the accusations against me. Every
one of the charges is false. I broke no laws, and I am confident
in the outcome of the legal proceedings now under way,'' Gonzales
said in a statement this afternoon.
Norcal also proclaimed its innocence in a statement today.
Prosecutor Julius Finkelstein said the grand jury spent six months
on the investigation, heard from 31 witnesses, including Gonzales
and Guerra, and reviewed more than 100,000 pages of documents
before issuing the indictment. He expects a judge will allow the
defendants' attorneys to spend a similar amount of time reviewing
the evidence, which would push any trial into 2007, after Gonzales'
term expires on Dec. 31.
The three defendants participated in "a secret bribery/fraud
scheme whereby Norcal would receive $11.25 million more than it
was entitled to under its agreement with the city of San Jose
in exchange for getting its subcontractor ... to switch from the
longshoremen's union to the Teamsters union,'' Finkelstein said.
Prosecutors would not comment on many of the details of the investigation,
including what possible motive Gonzales might have had, citing
state law requiring grand jury transcripts to remain sealed immediately
after an indictment is returned. The transcripts will be made
public in three to six weeks, according to Finkelstein.
In addition to conspiracy and falsification of public documents
charges, Gonzales is being charged with bribery despite a lack
of any evidence in the indictment that the mayor benefited financially
from the deal.
"In 1982 the California Supreme Court ruled that a bribe
does not have to personally benefit the public official. A public
official cannot use his official position to make a secret deal
to benefit either him or his political supporters,'' Finkelstein
said. "When the jury understands the law that applies in
this case ... we think that they will reach the correct verdict.''
Gonzales has maintained since the scandal became public last
year that all of his actions were designed to avoid labor unrest
by garbage workers.
Gonzales became the first Hispanic mayor of a large California
city in modern times when he was elected in 1998. He was often
mentioned in the media and by Democratic Party leaders as a future
candidate for statewide office, including governor, early in his
first term. He addressed the 2000 Democratic National Convention.
However, his political prospects suffered later that year when
he left his wife of more than 20 years for a young aide who worked
in the mayor's office. She later became his second wife.
During his two terms, Gonzales was the major force behind the
construction of San Jose's Richard Meier-designed City Hall, which
opened last year, and the main champion for bringing Bay Area
Rapid Transit to San Jose. He also supported increasing re-development
spending through the "strong neighborhoods initiative'' and
was an effective advocate for affordable housing construction.
The reputation he built with all of those accomplishments is now
threatened by the indictment.
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