Key Witness in Oakland Corruption Probe Dies

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Oakland businessman Donald Cooper, the star witness in an FBI corruption case that involved a City Hall hanger-on and implicated the president of the city council, has died of liver cancer, according to the Oakland Tribune.

In a scandal first reported by the Express following a tip from Oakland freelancer Sanjiv Handa, Maurice Himy was arrested and accused of trying to extort at least $65,000 from Cooper in exchange for getting him a city contract.

Himy was the longtime owner of Spaccio, a now-defunct men's clothing store in City Hall Plaza, and a regular presence around City Hall. He made suits for, and socialized with city officials, including then-mayor Jerry Brown and City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, whom Himy implicated in his conversations with Cooper. At the heart of the case, in fact, was Himy's claim he had enough juice with De La Fuente to make or break a city contract. According to the feds, Cooper resisted Himy's demand for cash to help the businessman secure a city auctioneering contract, and at some point the tailor told him, "Pay me or I will kill the contract." The alleged extortion scheme continued until Cooper was awarded his contract this past February.

The FBI complaint stated that Cooper had walked into its Oakland office in April 2005 and spilled his guts. He reportedly told agents that an acquaintance with connections inside City Hall was trying to extort money from him. The FBI then had Cooper wear a wire and taped his cell-phone conversations with his permission. But Cooper later left a voice mail for a city employee disputing the official story and claiming he'd never contacted the FBI. What really happened, Cooper said in the voice mail, was that the feds had bugged Himy's phone and then came to Cooper and threatened him if he didn't cooperate. "I would never go to the FBI," he told former Express reporter Will Harper.

He certainly won't now.

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