Perata Off the Hook - NBC Bay Area

Perata Off the Hook

Feds decide against filing charges



    Perata Off the Hook
    Former California Senate leader Don Perata

    Federal prosecutors on Wednesday declined to file corruption charges against a former California lawmaker, clearing the way for his campaign for Oakland mayor next year.


    The U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento announced its decision 2½ months after federal prosecutors in San Francisco reached the same conclusion.

    The announcement ends an investigation into former state Senate leader Don Perata that stretches back to 2004 and extended to his family and circle of political associates.

    "This is a complete affirmation of everything I've maintained for the last five years -- that I've acted appropriately in both my professional life and my career in public service," Perata said in a statement. "Ultimately, I knew that I had done nothing wrong and the truth would win out."

    He said he now can focus on "bringing new hope and real leadership to the city I love."

    Federal prosecutors released a statement saying only that they were declining to file criminal charges but did not say why. They said they could not "disclose our deliberative process."

    The decision ends a long-running drama that involved a man who had been among the most powerful players in California politics. A former high school civics teacher, Perata used his position as leader of the 40-member Senate to push an education-oriented agenda but also played the frequent foil to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    He campaigned against the governor's successful redistricting measure in 2008 and is credited with killing Schwarzenegger's $14 billion health care overhaul in early 2008, saying it would burden taxpayers with billions in costs in just a few years. Perata's critics say he spiked the plan because he has long favored a single-payer, government-run system.

    Term limits forced him from office last year.

    The case began in 2004, when federal agents raided the homes of Perata and his son, Nick. The son's political consulting firm had been paid tens of thousands of dollars from his father's campaigns.

    The investigation widened and focused on Perata's relationship with campaign donors and whether any of that money was diverted to family members and eventually kicked back to him.

    A federal grand jury in San Francisco subpoenaed six years' worth of e-mails from Don Perata and eight staff members in 2005.

    It also investigated the circle of Perata family members and associates, including his son, daughter, son-in-law and a San Francisco Bay area lobbyist, Lily Hu, a former Perata aide.

    FBI agents were looking for quid pro quos from political donations to Perata and whether the former lawmaker and his family profited personally from those donations. Some firms operated by family members received payments for political consulting from Perata campaign committees.

    Perata's attorney, George L. O'Connell, and the attorney for Nick Perata said the accusations were baseless and that the former lawmaker never exchanged votes for cash or sought to personally enrich himself or those close to him.

    "This was always like a political corruption investigation without any evidence of corruption," said Nick Perata's attorney, Elliot Peters. "They were focusing on political consulting and lobbying companies where the principals had a relationship to Perata -- like Nick -- but there was really never any proof that the senator had done anything in his official capacity to benefit anybody."

    Peters said there was no evidence indicating that Don Perata used his elected office to do the bidding of campaign donors.

    That was really never an issue here," he said.

    Perata, 64, announced in March that he intends to run next year for mayor of Oakland, a long-troubled city that struggles with violence, drug-dealing and a high number of home foreclosures. The current mayor, fellow Democrat Ron Dellums, has not announced whether he will seek re-election.

    The end of the investigation clears the way for Perata to mount a campaign without having to worry about a potential federal indictment and continuing legal payments.

    In an indication of his mounting legal bills, Perata transferred $1.9 million from his initiative committee to his legal defense fund before he left office and received $450,000 from the California Democratic Party.

    Attorneys for Perata and his son complained to the U.S. Department of Justice after prosecutors in San Francisco declined to file charges and the U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento took over the case.

    They argued that a previous agreement with federal prosecutors in San Francisco to extend a statute of limitations did not extend to prosecutors in Sacramento.

    Wednesday's statement from Sacramento prosecutors only referenced Don Perata. Prosecutors were concerned that they might not have jurisdiction to investigate the activities of Nick Perata or Lily Hu, the lobbyist, because they would have occurred in the San Francisco Bay area.


    Don Perata spent years in Sacramento as a state lawmaker, first elected to the Assembly in 1996 and to the Senate two years later.