Federal Probe Reveals Karaoke Bar Laundered Funds for Mayor’s Donations

Using a karaoke joint as a cover for a brothel, businessman Andy Duong allegedly funneled campaign donations to Oakland political heavyweights, including Mayor Sheng Thao. From 2016 to 2018, members of Duong’s family, who are employed by Oakland’s curbside recycling contractor, are alleged to have had surrogates distribute $18,000 to different political candidates.

In 2018, three individuals were apprehended during an undercover operation at the brothel, which allegedly included narcotics and people trafficking. One of the individuals accused of being involved in Duong’s purported fundraising scam is a former manager who was apprehended at the front company.

On June 20, federal authorities searched the homes of Duong, Mayor Thao, and David, Duong’s father and the founder of California Waste Solutions. According to a court document from 2021 detailing the ethics probe against Duong and an accomplice, the plan’s creators secretly compensated the straw donors who had given money at their direction.

Thao and other officials went to Vietnam last summer to encourage commerce, and the Duongs financed their group. David Duong, who is involved in the Vietnamese market, accompanied the group. 

City contractors in Oakland are not allowed by law to contribute to political campaigns.

Charlie Ngo, a former manager of the Music Cafe who was detained during the brothel raid, allegedly donated more than $5,000 to area political campaigns despite his overdrawn bank account.

A Fair Political Practices Commission document said that Ngo had a meager $50 in his bank account when he donated $700 to one candidate and just $5 when he donated $800 to a former council member.

According to investigators, Ngo made a large cash deposit either before or after he wrote his check.

In 2018, Thao’s campaign for city council received $800 from Ngo. According to documents, she also received $2,400 from individuals associated with the now-closed café during her campaign.

In 2022, prosecutors from Alameda County dismissed all charges against the former manager that were linked to the brothel.

The inquiry against Duong is still ongoing.

Proponents of Thao’s recall claim that she slowed down the East Bay economy and aided in the crime wave.

Pamela Price, the district attorney of Alameda County, is up for recall in the next election for being too lenient with offenders in court. Thao and Price were elected in 2022.

Attorney Tony Brass abruptly resigned from defending Thao days after agreeing to assist the mayor.