Nedir Bey, a close confidant of the late Your Black Muslim Bakery founder Yusuf Bey, received public funds for his anemic 2002 run for the Oakland City Council but faced little scrutiny from election officials for suspect political contributions and spending.
The discovery appears to be one more example of the Bey empire’s alleged scams and schemes uncovered by the Chauncey Bailey Project since the eponymous journalist’s August 2007 murder, which law enforcement sources have linked to the bakery.
For five years the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento sat on a request to investigate alleged campaign finance irregularities committed by Nedir Bey — who owes the city of Oakland $1.5 million in another matter — then dropped the probe because too much time had elapsed.
Bey ran for the Oakland City Council’s District 4 seat in March 2002 but got only 268 votes. He received $14,178 in public matching funds for his campaign despite questions raised by the head of Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission about the sources of the candidate’s contributions.
In August 2007, however, the FPPC sent a letter to Bey announcing it would not be taking any action against him, “given the age of this case and our current enforcement priorities.” Bey refused to comment on any of the main points in this article.
FPPC spokesperson Roman Porter said he could not say why the investigation lagged as long as it did, other than to say that a former enforcement official refrained from pursuing the case. Porter said the official closed a large number of cases to decrease a backlog, but Bey’s wasn’t one of them.
A new chairman and enforcement team came on board last year, but by that time the statute of limitations had already expired on two of the matters contained in Oakland’s complaint and there wasn’t enough time left to investigate the third matter before the statute of limitations ran out, Porter said.
Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission executive director, Dan Purnell, passed the case to Sacramento instead of completing the investigation locally. City law gives the Public Ethics Commission the sole authority for civil enforcement of the Limited Public Financing Act, which contains regulations for disbursing matching funds.
Purnell suspected irregularities in Bey’s campaign expenditures as early as January 2002, 10 months before he asked the state FPPC to initiate an investigation.
The March 2002 election was the first in Oakland to offer public financing to candidates who agreed to abide by voluntary spending limits. Candidates in the election could qualify for up to $14,700 in matching public funds from a special account established by the city to help defray the cost of running for office.
Matched contributions had to be $100 or less. The Committee to Elect Nedir Bey reported it had raised a total of $14,517, of which $14,178 was eligible for matching funds. The campaign reported it spent a total of $39,741 on the election.
Documents obtained from the FPPC through a public records request show that of 145 contributions, 123 were made with $99 money orders with sequential numbers, all apparently purchased from the same location over a four-day period between Jan. 14 and 18, 2002. Only 22 donations to Bey’s campaign were written on personal checks.
Purnell asked Bey prior to disbursing the matching funds if the money orders were purchased at the same time in bundles and if anyone other than the donor had purchased them. Bey declined to comment for this story, but he explained to Purnell at the time that the donors were transported to the store en masse to buy the money orders, and he promised no one else had obtained them for the donors.
Bey also assured Purnell that the listed contributors were adults who gave their own money, as required by law, although 26 donors listed their addresses as either 5832 or 5836 San Pablo, locations used at that time by Your Black Muslim Bakery.
Once Bey got the money, he stopped filing required campaign finance statements with the city. When he eventually filed them in September 2002, the forms offered no detailed accounting of the $39,741 worth of expenditures. Nor did Bey explain the gap between the amount spent on his campaign and the contributions received, which came to $28,695, including the public matching funds.
Often the bulk of election costs come from fees paid to consultants, printed campaign materials, fundraising events, and office rental. Bey’s committee paid all but $500 to a person by the name of Vaughan Foster, who provided no address or further identification. Foster reportedly received $27,000 for salary, $11,000 for circuutf8g petitions, $241 for voter registration, and $1,000 for phone banking.
Bey’s birth name is Victor Foster.
The Public Ethics Commission received a complaint and ultimately voted in August 2002 to forward the matter to the state FPPC after a stormy hearing during which Bey told the commissioners he was “not a professional politician,” as the Contra Costa Times reported. He also told the commission he “would not bow down to [them].”
In an Oct. 10, 2002, letter to state authorities, Purnell wrote, “The commission believes this matter is important because the commission relies on the content and accuracy of campaign statements to help administer its matching fund program.”
The FPPC has moved to subpoena bank records and other materials during the intervening years. But in August 2007, nearly five years after Purnell’s initial request and four years after he forwarded hundreds of pages of documentation from the campaign to Dan Schek, an FPPC investigator, Bey received a letter declaring the case closed.
Jean Quan, the District 4 incumbent who ran against Bey in 2002, said she didn’t recall him stumping widely or knocking on doors in the area’s neighborhoods. She was surprised he raised $15,000 from private donors to begin with and said he didn’t appear to spend much of it on campaign signs.
“I ran into a few fliers of his,” she said, “but nothing that would cost $30,000.”
According to the city’s municipal code governing elections, the Public Ethics Commission is supposed to “promptly advise” the city attorney in writing, as well as the “appropriate prosecuting enforcement agency,” of any evidence of criminal violations.
The law states, “any person who knowingly or willfully misrepresents his or her eligibility for matching funds … is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
The law also gives the local commission broad latitude to recover the funds, including penalties and fines not to exceed $1,000 per violation, and authorizes the commission to sue the candidate.
But none of that was done in Bey’s case, Purnell said. The matter was referred to the state because the Ethics Commission does not have the authority to enforce state elections laws, which at that time appeared to be Bey’s most obvious violation, Purnell said.
“To make a criminal complaint we have to prove intent,” Purnell said.
He said he was never pressured by anyone to refer the matter to the state instead of local authorities. Back then he had no idea who Bey was, that he was connected to Your Black Muslim Bakery, or that he had defaulted on a $1.1 million economic revitalization loan from the city of Oakland just a few years before running for the Oakland City Council, Purnell said.
“I didn’t know Nedir Bey from Adam,” Purnell said, adding that he later learned of Bey’s background from a November 2002 article in the East Bay Express.
“What I recall him telling me was that it was a big grassroots effort on his part, that many of his contributors were poor and lived in a complex and he organized them to go down there [to buy the money orders],” Purnell said. “It sounded plausible.”
The city’s original public financing ordinance was less restrictive regarding matching contributions than it is now, partly because of the Bey case. Contributions made by money order are no longer eligible for matching funds and now must be made on two-party checks drawn on the bank account of the contributors.
In the past, Bey has represented himself as a “spiritual adviser” to the late Antar Bey, who was briefly head of Your Black Muslim Bakery. Other bakery associates face numerous criminal charges in Alameda County, including torture, kidnapping, real estate fraud, and the Aug. 2, 2007, killing of Oakland journalist Bailey, who was working on stories about the Bey empire.
Most recently Nedir Bey served as president of the school site council for Fruitvale Elementary School.
Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said the understaffed FPPC couldn’t investigate every small-time municipal election.
But, he said, “when the ethics commission realized the FPPC wasn’t acting on the case quickly, then Oakland really should have begun looking at it.”
Cecily Burt is a staff writer for MediaNews, one of the Guardian‘s partners in the Chauncey Bailey Project. For more information and to read past stories, go to www.sfbg.com/news/chaunceybailey.