Testimony Suggests San Jose Mayor Pressured Contractor into Hiring Teamsters

San Jose, California Mayor Ron Gonzales has vowed to dig in and fight charges that he’s a crook. But the content of just-released grand jury transcripts suggests he might have little ground upon which to dig – or so say Santa Clara County prosecutors. On August 11, transcripts from testimony given back in March by the head of a garbage contractor, Norcal Waste Systems, indicated that the mayor pressured the firm to ensure that it would hire Teamsters and not Longshoremen. Norcal CEO Michael Sangiacomo stated that Gonzales would “do his best to make sure that Norcal was reimbursed” for having to pay higher Teamster wages; a pending agreement with a Longshoremen’s local would have enabled the City to pay lower wages. The contract was set to begin on July 1, 2002. While most of the 2,400 pages contained few surprises, some appeared to undermine the mayor’s contention that he did nothing out of the ordinary.    


Back in June, Gonzales, along with chief budget aide Joe Guerra and Norcal, were indicted on bribery, conspiracy, and misuse of public funds relating to a backroom deal that took place on October 6, 2000. At that meeting, the mayor allegedly arranged for one of Norcal’s subcontractors, California Waste Solutions (CWS), to hire only Teamsters for a recycling contract. Gonzales allegedly promised to use city funds to pay CWS. Guerra subsequently helped push through City Council a 9 percent increase in the garbage collection rate to cover the extra $11.25 million over five years. As a quid pro quo, the Teamsters and Norcal contributed a combined $10,000 to Gonzales’s 2002 reelection campaign. Gonzales, for his part, didn’t need the money. Facing light opposition, he won by a more than 40-percentage-point margin. 


At a June 26 hearing, the mayor postponed entering a plea. Two days later, the City Council passed a nonbinding resolution calling upon Gonzales to resign. Whatever Gonzales and Guerra have to say, they didn’t say much of it at the grand jury hearing. Their testimony was so short that the pair more than likely repeatedly invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Attorneys said they were prohibited by court order from affirming whether this was the explanation. But Sangiacomo’s words suggested Gonzales had good reason to keep mum. “Typically, when a mayor asks you to do something, it’s been my experience they ask because they really want you to do it,” Sangiacomo testified. 

But the Norcal CEO’s testimony may be less than convincing. Transcripts show that Sangiacomo recalled his meeting with the mayor as including three other people: David Duong, top executive for CWS; Robert Morales, head of the Teamsters local; and Amy Dean, at the time head of the South Bay Labor Council. Yet other testimony and Gonzales’s own calendar show none of those people were at the meeting in question. Another Norcal executive who was at the meeting, Bill Jones, said he didn’t feel pressured by Gonzales. Jones said the mayor and Guerra wanted to make sure there would be no labor problems in the new contract. The mayor’s attorney, Allen Ruby, believes the only thing Sangiacomo’s testimony proves is that Gonzales had committed himself to persuading the San Jose City Council of the need to cover labor costs. “Any discussion about bringing the matter back to the city council is entirely within the scope of what elected officials are supposed to do,” said Ruby. Gonzales, who’s not running for a fourth term in office, is set to step down at the end of the year. More about who said what to whom will be known when the case goes to trial next May 4. (San Jose Mercury News, 8/12/06).