Alameda DA’s office Hired Pamela Price’s Boyfriend, Raising Nepotism Concerns

OAKLAND — The office of Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price hired her boyfriend for a six-figure salary, despite a past that includes allegations he extorted Richmond business owners for tens of thousands of dollars — a claim that drew the attention of the FBI.

Antwon Cloird joined Price’s team at the beginning of her administration, occupying an office at her headquarters as a “senior program specialist” whose responsibilities the county declined to detail.

Good government groups have long criticized Alameda County for not having a clear nepotism policy, and the lack of rules surrounding the hiring of a romantic partner seems to have benefited Price and Cloird. County officials told this news organization they could not find any documents showing Price voluntarily notified them of the potential conflict of interest.

The couple’s relationship has been an open secret at work, raising the eyebrows of colleagues. And his time in Richmond has brought its own concerns.

Emails obtained by this news organization highlight those concerns. They show that in 2015, Richmond’s mayor, city manager and police chief suspected Cloird, at the time a politically connected nonprofit executive, of shaking down businesses to the tune of $5,000 to $20,000.

Around that time, the FBI began investigating Cloird’s dealings in the city, according to emails and a sworn affidavit filed by an attorney claiming to be an FBI informant in a lawsuit that quoted Cloird as saying “you gots to pay to play” in Richmond. Cloird ultimately was not charged.

Since her historic victory in November, Price has faced heightened scrutiny — and now a budding recall effort — for seeking to recast how justice is dispensed across the East Bay.

Now, the hiring of Cloird has brought questions about her workplace ethics.

“I see so many problems with it. I see problems with conflict of interest. I see a problem with nepotism. I see a problem with lack of transparency. It’s problematic in every way I look at it,” said retired Santa Clara County Judge and former San Jose Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell. “In public government, you don’t do this. There’s no way in my view to justify this.”

From the start, at least one member of Price’s top administration worried about the optics of Price hiring Cloird.

“I begged not for it to happen, only from a communications standpoint,” said Ryan LaLonde, Price’s top spokesperson until he resigned barely two months into her tenure. “I was like: How do I stand steadfast with someone having their significant other working in the office, and we’re talking about wanting to clean up the office from past improprieties?”

But LaLonde added that if the pair “weren’t dating, he’d be qualified enough to have the job.”

Cloird publicly acknowledged their relationship at his birthday celebration earlier this year at the Richmond Country Club, calling Price “the love of my life,” while she clutched his arm and said, “I’m blushing.”

“It takes a strong woman to deal with a strong man, and a strong man to deal with a strong woman,” said Cloird, in a video posted to YouTube. “I ain’t weak now. I’ll tell you, Pamela has stood for me through everything I’d done on my journey, and I’ve stood with her.”

Price’s office on Friday did not address specific questions about Cloird’s hiring or their relationship but called him “a valued member of the team whose distinguished work and accomplishments in communities throughout the Bay Area are well documented.”

“Cloird, who has overcome so much adversity in his own life, is a testament to what an individual can achieve and contribute to the health and well-being of fellow community members,” said a statement sent by Price’s spokesperson, Patti Lee. Cloird did not respond to a list of questions sent to him.

Alameda County, which came under fire in a 2013 Civil Grand Jury report for lacking nepotism policies, continues to lack such ethics rules a decade later. The issue has arisen before: Price’s predecessor, Nancy O’Malley, also employed relatives. O’Malley’s sister worked as a senior program specialist in her administration, while her nephew worked as a prosecutor, under both O’Malley and Price, staff rosters show.

The human resources department said there’s no record that Price or Cloird notified the department of their relationship, nor is there any policy requiring them to do so.

When asked to provide a description of his job, the agency offered a generic job listing for a county senior program specialist but it included no details specific to work within the district attorney’s office. The agency declined to provide his resume, CV or job application, claiming they were confidential.

But the county HR agency did confirm Cloird’s base pay: $115,502 a year, just shy of the top end of what someone in that position can make. As of Dec. 31, there were five senior program specialist positions in the DA’s office.

What is known about Cloird’s work over the past seven months is that it is centered in the field of re-entry for incarcerated people. Former Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Erin Loback, who worked closely with Cloird until recently joining the San Francisco DA’s office, said he helped identify candidates for early release and assess their readiness to rejoin society. Cloird presented her with lists of people he wanted to see let out of prison, an unorthodox practice that broke from the unit’s traditional process, Loback said.

“I was afraid to speak up about anything,” said Loback, who said she grew suspicious of names on Cloird’s list because he offered vague explanations when pressed about where they came from. “There was no one I could go to, to say, ‘What is this?’ I couldn’t question it, because of his relationship with her.”

Price’s office said a team of lawyers makes resentencing and re-entry decisions, not Cloird. The mission of the units is to reduce recidivism, the statement said.

Before joining the DA’s office, Cloird worked as Price’s campaign manager after spending years as a street-level activist in Richmond. He was a regular presence at City Council meetings, organized job fairs, ran Thanksgiving turkey drives and community softball games, and helped the city’s homeless population.

His redemption as an ex-offender who turned his life around from the days he was known as “29 Seconds” — a nickname he earned on the streets for getting whatever you needed within that time — was chronicled in this newspaper more than a decade ago, as part of a “Hometown Heroes” profile series.

Cloird started a nonprofit called Men and Women of Purpose that helped convicts readjust to society outside of prison, and he sat on Contra Costa County’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Advisory Board. His supporters say he’s no stranger to the task that Price has assigned him.

“You need someone who has lived that experience and who has come out of that experience,” said Rev. Andre Shumake, who has known Cloird for more than 50 years and worked together on prison re-entry issues. “So Antwon, in essence, is a symbol of hope.”

By 2015, however, his reputation took a turn.

Concerns arose of a possible “shakedown” by Cloird of a company that was moving to a new location in the city of Richmond, according to obtained city emails.

For a $5,000 fee, Cloird allegedly told the Golden Gate Meat Company’s owner that he could “expedite” permits sought by the meat packing company, according to an email then-Mayor Tom Butt sent to then-City Manager Bill Lindsay.

A few months later, the owner of a Peruvian restaurant relayed to Butt that Cloird had asked for $20,000 to “facilitate” a conditional use permit to open the new eatery with a liquor license in the Pacific East Mall, another city email shows. Attempts to reach the restaurant owner were not successful and the meat company owner declined to comment for this story.

The restaurant owner appeared resigned to paying Cloird, telling Butt that “otherwise he will bring a bunch of people to speak against it,” the email said.

“I don’t know if this is illegal or not, but it doesn’t make our city look good when businesses feel they have to pay someone off to get a permit,” Butt wrote to the city manager, police chief and planning and development manager.

To Butt’s eyes, “essentially, he is paying protection money,” another of the emails said.

“I will be following up with the FBI about this,” added then-Chief Chris Magnus, in another message.

It remains unclear what became of that inquiry, but one email shows that an FBI agent requested a meeting with Butt and Magnus. Magnus, now Washington D.C.’s deputy auditor for public safety, declined to comment for this story.

Reached by this news organization, Butt lamented the reported shakedowns, saying that it  “diminishes the confidence that people have in doing business in the city.”

A year later, in 2016, three businesses – all marijuana dispensaries – became the subject of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit alleging that they hired Cloird and other Richmond influencers to drum up opposition to an incoming fourth dispensary. The alleged conspirators’ goal: monopolize the marijuana market to keep prices fixed abnormally high, the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit by Richmond Compassionate Care Collective included bombshell allegations that Cloird sought to pay off Richmond City Council members for their votes on the proposed dispensary. In the process, Cloird was said to have leaned on the collective’s attorney for payoffs, the lawsuit said, while other court documents show he allegedly said that “you gots to pay to play” in Richmond.

The attorney suing those other dispensaries claimed in a court filing sworn under penalty of perjury to have been an FBI informant at a time when federal investigators were looking into corruption on Richmond’s City Council. Cloird and another community member were also subjects of that investigation, the attorney claimed.

In 2022, a nearly-$20 million judgment was entered against multiple defendants in that lawsuit, although by then Cloird successfully argued to have his name removed as a defendant in the lawsuit, after arguing the lawsuit failed to prove a conspiracy between Cloird and the other defendants under the state’s Cartwright Act, which prohibits agreements to restrain competition or fix prices.

By that time, Cloird had moved on to other ventures. Around 2018, Cloird appears to have stepped away from his nonprofit, federal tax records show. He took a position that year to help Price run her first campaign for district attorney. That same year, Price listed income between $10,001 and $100,000 for work at Cloird’s nonprofit, according to state financial records she filed that year.

The pair are now working out of an East Oakland branch of the DA’s office, where Price moved her administration months after taking office.

In interviews, one ethics expert said while politicians often hire well-qualified campaign staff members, transparency is paramount, especially for district attorneys.

“Lawyers are bound to uphold professional responsibilities — uphold the rule of law — and one of the core responsibilities that lawyers have is avoiding conflicts of interest,” said Scott Cummings, a UCLA law professor specializing in ethics.

Another ethics scholar called the top prosecutor’s hiring of her boyfriend “surprising,” because it raises the question of whether a public official is “feathering their own friends or family members’ financial situation.”

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

Island of Alameda weighing license-plate readers at entry and exit points

Frustrated by a wave of auto break-ins and thefts plaguing the Bay Area, police officials on the island of Alameda have proposed a strategy that would take advantage of the city’s unique geography, even as it raises the ire of privacy advocates.

They want to scan the license plate of every vehicle that enters the city from Oakland, and every one that leaves.

The Alameda City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to spend $500,000 on 13 license plate recognition systems, which would be installed over the traffic lanes of several bridges, two underwater tubes and two intersections near city limits. The devices create records of when vehicles come and go, while immediately flagging stolen and wanted vehicles.

The Police Department has four license plate readers, all attached to cruisers. Chief Paul Rolleri said a spike in property crime has shown that more needs to be done. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle