'I have done nothing wrong.' Oakland mayor declares herself innocent in fiery speech after FBI raid

FBI agents raid a home on Maiden Lane where Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao allegedly lives in Oakland, Calif. Thursday, June 20, 2024. Federal authorities raided a home belonging to Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao early Thursday as part of an investigation that included a search of at least two other houses, authorities said. (Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
FBI agents raid the house of Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao on Thursday as part of an investigation that included a search of at least two other houses, authorities said. (Jessica Christian / San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

In a tearful speech, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao declared herself innocent Monday, speaking for the first time since her house was raided by federal authorities last week.

The first Hmong mayor of the Bay Area city cast herself as the victim — not a criminal — in the probe and sought to link the "FBI intrusion," as she called it, to a recall campaign seeking to remove her from office in November.

"I want to be crystal clear. I have done nothing wrong. I can tell you with confidence that this investigation is not about me," said Thao during the 10-minute speech.

The FBI has not disclosed what prompted the raid but it coincided with a second raid at the home of Andy Duong, one of the Duong family members who owns and runs Cal Waste Solutions, which has been under investigation by a city ethics panel over campaign contributions to Thao and others.

Thao appeared frustrated and shed tears during the news conference as she recounted the fear she felt when agents entered her home Wednesday.

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"It's hard to imagine now, but at the time my first thought was that the FBI was at my door to help me, to protect me," said the mayor.

Thao quickly linked the FBI raid to a campaign launched recently to get her recalled from office. The day before the raid, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters announced that there were enough signatures to put Thao's recall on the ballot in November. Thao is the first Oakland mayor to face a recall vote. The effort has been led by a former Alameda County Superior Court judge whom Thao removed from the city's Police Commission.

The recall initiative comes as the city wrestles with a surge in crime.

The crime issue has led to several high-profile businesses closing locations in the city, including In-N-Out Burger and Denny's.

In February, Gov. Gavin Newsom sent 120 Highway Patrol officers to Oakland to bolster police presence in the city.

During the news conference, a tearful Thao spoke about her struggle to overcome poverty in the United States. She asked why the FBI did not contact her and seek her voluntary cooperation before raiding her home.

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"This wouldn’t have gone down the way it did if I was rich, if I had gone to elite private schools or if I had come from money," she said.

Thao was elected in the fall of 2018 when she won a seat on the City Council, representing residents of the 4th District, which includes neighborhoods such as Montclair, Laurel and Melrose.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.