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Historic indictment casts shadow
on Gonzales

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 in office.

"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.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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