Silicon Valley politicians give back donations following FBI raids
David Duong, chairman of the Vietnamese American Business Association and CEO of California Waste Solutions, is pictured at a 2023 gala in this file photo.

Recent FBI raids into Bay Area properties owned and run by members of the politically-connected Duong family bring to light the yearslong allegations of illegal political donations into Silicon Valley.

Among those alleged to have received illegal donations are Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, whose residence was searched by federal agents last week in connection with an undisclosed investigation. San José Spotlight found David Duong, CEO of California Waste Solutions, a company contracting with San Jose, and another company leader made contributions to the campaigns of San Jose City Council District 8 candidate Tam Truong and South Bay Congressman Ro Khanna.

Truong’s Campaign Manager Manuel Robles confirmed they received a $700 contribution from Michael Duong, a manager at California Waste Solutions, but the campaign now plans to give the money back.

“Given the news raising questions about these contributions to campaigns throughout the Bay Area and beyond, we are in the process of returning this check,” he told San José Spotlight.

Campaign finance reports show David Duong contributed at least $5,800 to Khanna’s congressional campaign committee last year. Khanna, who represents District 17 in Silicon Valley, said he plans to donate the money.

“We plan to donate the contribution to an organization that is helping people in my district struggling with the rising cost of living highlighted by the Silicon Valley Pain Index report,” Khanna told San José Spotlight.

A California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) report from 2021 alleges David Duong and his son Andy Duong were involved in laundering at least 93 political campaign contributions totaling nearly $76,000. The scheme allegedly resulted in the company reimbursing friends for making political cash contributions to candidates across the state, including the South Bay, on their behalf — an illegal practice that uses “straw donors.”

Jay Wierenga, spokesperson for the FPPC, told San José Spotlight their investigation is still open.

David Duong said California Waste Solutions is aware of federal agents executing search warrants at a number of locations in Oakland related to the company.

“The company is fully cooperating with the government’s investigation, and is confident that the government will conclude that it was not involved in any unlawful or improper activity,” David Duong told San José Spotlight.

California Waste Solutions provides recycling services to more than 175,000 single-family homes in San Jose, and has been contracting with the city since 2002.

The company has had a pending lawsuit with the city since last year, claiming San Jose profits from contract violations, discriminates against the company because of its owners’ ethnicity and has failed to address the garbage that ends up in recycling bins.

In a letter responding to the hauler’s claim, City Attorney Nora Frimann said the company’s allegations were untimely and without merit.

While the investigation into allegations California Waste Solutions targeted politicians in a campaign cash laundering scheme is ongoing, Wierenga said he could not give details on the scope of the investigation.

Investigators already reported finding California Waste Solutions cash in the 2018 campaigns of then-San Jose City Council candidate Tam Nguyen and then-Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors candidate Don Rocha, according to the FPPC investigative report.

Nguyen is alleged to have received at least $4,200 from seven straw donors and Rocha is alleged to have received $3,000 from three straw donors.

Rocha, now a Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee, said he is unaware of any potential laundering scheme and cooperated with the FPPC when they requested to see his donor list.

“I had forgotten about this for quite some time now,” he told San José Spotlight. “I provided all the information I could and never heard back from them again, so I didn’t know what the purpose of that was, or why they were asking — I guess now I have a little bit more information as to why they asked at that time.”

When reached for comment, Nguyen told San José Spotlight he is out of town and unavailable at this time.

Assemblymember Evan Low, who is running for the Congressional District 16 seat, received $6,600 from David Duong, while Congressman Adam Schiff, who is running to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein in November election, received $26,000 from David Duong and family members. Both elected officials have said they aren’t keeping the donations.

“Following public news reports, the campaign will be giving $26,000 — the total contributions received from Mr. Duong and his family – to a local non-profit helping address housing and homelessness,” a Schiff campaign spokesperson told San José Spotlight.

San Jose State political science professor emeritus Larry Gerston said politicians are distancing themselves from the contributions to shield themselves from any possible connection with the allegations against California Waste Solutions.

“People who find themselves the recipients of alleged tainted funds often unload them to a place where they think it will do some good,” Gerston told San José Spotlight. “The important thing is that if the candidate feels in some way they could be linked to the kinds of allegations going on in Oakland, best thing they could possibly do is separate themselves as much and as fast as possible.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow @VicenteJVera on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Editor’s Note: California Waste Solutions has donated to San José Spotlight.

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