James Tong, ex-Pleasanton campaign contributor, Oak Grove housing backer guilty of fraud

Must serve 1 year probation, pay $650,000 fine, preserve 107 acres

James Tong, owner of Charter Properties and a long-time investor and contributor to political and land issue campaigns in Pleasanton, pleaded no contest Friday to one count of submitting fraudulent documentation related to protecting at-risk animal species.

Tong took a plea deal with the state's Attorney General's Office and admitted to the count on the condition that he serves a year of probation and pay $650,000 in fines.

He also must agree to preserving 107 acres of land in Contra Costa County in a conservation easement as part of his no contest plea for the count, which will be reduced to a misdemeanor in a year.

Tong has been a contributor to several political campaigns in Pleasanton, most notably to the unsuccessful efforts by Erlene DeMarcus to win a City Council seat in the 2012 municipal election. According to reports, donations to her campaign totaled $7,125 from Tong and his family, as well as another $1,000 from his business Landmark Exchange Management which is owned by Tong

He was also backed by former Mayor Jennifer Hosterman in his 2002 bid to tear down the then-empty Vintage Hills shopping center and build 148 three-story townhouses and a corner convenience market on that five-acre property. The plan was ultimately rejected by the City Council and the center is now a bustling neighborhood retail destination with New Leaf Community Markets as its anchor grocery.

Later, he was as the center of controversy again when he and his Charter Properties firm sought city approval for a 98-home development on a 562-acre site atop Kottinger Hills on property owned by Jennifer, Frederic and Kevin Lin. With Tong as an investor partner, they downsized the plan to 51 homes, but still encountered the wrath of nearby neighborhoods who successfully halted the project in a voter referendum. In the end, after years of legal action, the State Court of Appeal ruled the development could not be built.

In his latest skirmish with the law, Tong faced off with Dublin city officials over Dublin Ranch North, the name of the planned housing development at issue. It consists of 157 acres in Dublin near Tassajara Creek.

In June 2009, city officials determined that the development of a 30-acre portion of the property might have potential impact on the California tiger salamander. The California tiger salamander is listed as threatened under the state's Endangered Species Act.

Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife also said the red-legged frog would be potentially impacted, though Gruel said this animal species was never at issue in this case.

Tong was required to purchase offsite mitigation credits to counter the effects of building in the habitat of a state-protected species, department officials said.

Department officials said Tong submitted conservation bank payment receipts - totaling more than $3.2 million to the city of Dublin - that were later found to be fraudulent. He then graded around 4 acres between July and December 2012.

Wildlife Management LLC, Tong's company, sent the city two bank payment receipts for Dublin Ranch North plus a Dublin Ranch West, purporting to represent mitigation credits for two both sites, Gruel said.

The original payment receipts had been altered to make it appear mitigation receipts covered one of the sites when it didn't, Gruel said.

Tong entered his plea for this altered document, though Gruel said he faced many other counts that were thrown out by a judge in preliminary hearings during the two-plus year investigation.

"Tong would like to apologize for his error in judgment," Gruel said. "Tong accepts full responsibility for the mistakes that were made in this instance and has taken steps to ensure that they will not happen again."

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53 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Dec 19, 2015 at 6:26 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.


Is it reasonable to assume that this Tong guy is representative of developers in general?

Or, is it reasonable to assume that this Tong guy is simply a dishonest developer convicted of fraud, with his no contest plea for submitting fraudulent documentation.

"Tong would like to apologize for his error in judgement".

Fraud is not an error in judgement, fruad is a demonstrated crime to cheat, to ignore the law of the land and to profit while doing so, PERIOD.

38 people like this
Posted by res
a resident of Birdland
on Dec 20, 2015 at 12:32 pm

As somebody who has seen Tong's business over the years I can say that Tong feels that fines and penalties are just part of the cost of doing business (you can see his history of fines from the fair political practice act). He has no shame. If he is going to make a million dollars on a project and he knows that doing something illegal will get him the business, as long as the fines are less than a million dollars, it is a good return on investment for him. He has no morals. While all business people, including developers, are going to try to get the best return on investment, most people would not do something illegal.

30 people like this
Posted by Crooks
a resident of California Somerset
on Dec 20, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Ironic that the date of the fraudulent forged payments for which the Securities Fraud felonies are based is March 16, 2007 the same date the Pleasanton Weekly ran a full front page cover story on the supposed gift of Oak Grove complete with a one sided pro developer article inside. Meanwhile Tom PIco is the hired consultant and Jennifer Hosterman, Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Thorne are working to stack the City commissions with pro-Tong supporters to ensure a quick and easy project green light. Meanwhile John Wong has just purchased Scott Haggerty's house and has purchased Staples Ranch property from Alameda County.

Crooks and more crooks. Then of course it doesn't matter how many shadow companies like Standforth holding company are formed. In the end criminals will be caught.

26 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Dec 20, 2015 at 2:52 pm

"Error in judgement", my A€#!!!! Ol Tong finally got nailed for something and Im guessing this all runs much deeper than we will ever know! Forget the probation, a little jail time might do some good here and take all his paid off politicians with him, what a bunch of thieves!

7 people like this
Posted by Jtjh
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Dec 20, 2015 at 3:00 pm

I disagree. In my opinion, many criminals are NOT caught - especially fraudsters. And those who are caught are often dealt merely a slap on the wrist.

The world has changed. Nowadays breaches of ethics are often forgiven and quickly forgotten.
And, in many cases, the saying "Crime doesn't pay" is completely untrue.

Like this comment
Posted by Jtjh
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Dec 20, 2015 at 3:06 pm

"Map" posted as I was replying to the message above his/hers. So in case it is not immediately clear, I should explain that my own comment referred to the final sentence of the post by "Crooks".

5 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Dec 20, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

If this James Tong developer successfully completes his one year probation. This felony fraud conviction will be downgraded to a misdemeanor.

If Tong were to violate his probation, the felony charge sticks, which would prevent him from maintaining his license.

2 people like this
Posted by Steven
a resident of Stoneridge
on Dec 21, 2015 at 9:33 am

Steven is a registered user.

It's ironic that he gets busted for fraud over blackmail payments to some environmental fund in exchange for rights to develop land impacting a threatened species.

Like this comment
Posted by Me
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Dec 21, 2015 at 9:40 am

How so, Steven?

Like this comment
Posted by Joyce
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2015 at 9:40 am

I think the correct name was Erlene DeMarcus (or Earlene), not Ellen.

13 people like this
Posted by Hotterman'd
a resident of Vineyard Hills
on Dec 21, 2015 at 11:59 am

More evidence linking former Mayor, Jennifer Hosterman to less than ethical behavior.

12 people like this
Posted by Crime does not pay in the end
a resident of Downtown
on Dec 21, 2015 at 12:33 pm

The San Francisco Business Times reports that Tong is guilty of forgery and has been also sentenced to home confinement here Web Link "East Bay developer will pay fines, be on home confinement after forgery"

The Feds like to go after corrupt local, state and federal elected officials and top ranking city and county administrators and city and county attorneys so I would not be surprised under the plea deal that Tong has cooperated and spilled the beans. He could have been sent to prison for 5 years.

Amazing how one developer can somehow get the current city attorney and city manager to almost word-for-word quote from the Lin Measure PP hit piece mailer delivered to all households in October 2008.

Guess we will all have to wait for next steps. If I was one of the 4 tied to Tong on the city council in Pleasanton, I'd be in the market for a good defense lawyer.

12 people like this
Posted by Louis
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Dec 21, 2015 at 2:35 pm

Tong has a long history of doing whatever he thinks will get his way to make $: If the profit is greater than the penalty, just do it and don't get caught.

Finally the voters of Pleasanton can connect the dots between the politicians who have taken campaign money from Tong and their suspect voting records.

We can only hope Tong was given a light sentence in exchange for incriminating testimony. Maybe this will help the Feds clean up some of the dirty politicking in Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley.

14 people like this
Posted by withrow6
a resident of Dublin
on Dec 21, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Time for a Grand Jury Investigation...

3 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2015 at 3:47 pm

I think many of us knew about Pico at the time. I also remember him telling us he was Mayor to get lifetime medical insurance. He had so little to offer, but voters can be so clueless. I'll be curious to see what names come up. I would say Pico started and lead that group..
However "crooks" is way off-base with comment above, and just threw in Thorne who was not on the council until a later period, Also, he was never 'in that group' who were already long timers on the council. Besides people who know him know he had a comfortable silicon valley retirement, unlike the Pico types. Some go into government because they care and want to 'do good'. Others want to help themselves 'do well'.

17 people like this
Posted by Crooks
a resident of California Somerset
on Dec 21, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Jerry Thorne was on the city council in 2005 two years before the March 16, 2007 forged document related to felon Tong. Thorne not only called a fellow candidate a "sex offender" in a televised debate which is documented in a Pleasanton Weekly article posted May 20, 2005 called "Faustina seeks Thorne Apology - Sex offender oops called 'Slanderous by council candidate," but won that special election on June 7, 2005 because of his slander of a Pleasanton resident.
Thorne also worked to give away for $1 a year land to the San Jose Sharks who were clients of school board member Pat Kernan and now of counsel of Kingsley Bogard on Staples Ranch worth millions after the John Wong and Scott Haggerty house land deal.
Thousands of Lin and Tong money has been funneled to Thorne's campaigns directly or through the Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee.

4 people like this
Posted by Hits the fan
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Dec 21, 2015 at 5:47 pm

Can anyone verify, I thought Tong was a Democrat willing to back other Dems like Cook-Kallio?? So how is he also backing 4 Republicans on the council?

3 people like this
Posted by Crooks
a resident of California Somerset
on Dec 21, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Web Link is the recent Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report. Check out p. 19 entitled ALameda County Board of Supervisors Culture of Political Interference. THe subject is Shawn Wilson formerly with Alliance Campaign Strategies who ran the Yes on Measure QQ campaign supported by Thorne Narum Olson and Pentin. Alliance Campaign Strategies has also been hired by Greenbriar to push through the Lund Ranch Ii development and ran the political campaign and produced the mailers to defeat Measure PP. The grand jury slammed the persons involved for back room dealings and unethical behavior. Read the report from page 19 to 32 and toward the end do the report there is a mechanism where any resident can file any complaint it wishes against any administrator or public official or government entity that the resident wants scrutinized by the grand jury.

9 people like this
Posted by Crooks
a resident of California Somerset
on Dec 21, 2015 at 7:57 pm

If you go up to the right hand corner of the home page of the Pleasanton Weekly and type "615 Jade Place" you will find that in Home Sales the Pleasanton Weekly never reported the sale of Haggerty's house to Fremont developer John Wong in January 2007 even though it reported the sale of the house to Haggerty on 1-6-2006 a year earlier. Why was the transfer to Wong that was a matter of public record never mentioned in the Pleasanton Weekly?

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Dec 21, 2015 at 8:07 pm

hi seem to be fixated on "crooks"? pleeese esplain...

6 people like this
Posted by Crooks
a resident of California Somerset
on Dec 21, 2015 at 8:43 pm

Web Link says John Wong also was prosecuted for destroying two ponds in Pleasanton. Haggerty had a deal with John Wong to buy Haggerty's house in spite of the ALameda County DA sentencing John Wong to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. It was also fined $100,000. John Wong also pleaded no contest.

John Wong is well known for his company Mission Peak development and run ins with law enforcement. Curious why the Pleasanton Weekly did not report the Scott Haggerty home purchase by Wong just prior to the $11 million purchase of land on Staples Ranch and also why city elected officials in Pleasanton would even consider Wong eligible to develop any land in Pleasanton given he has already destroyed 2 ponds and an arroyo.

9 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Dec 21, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Yep, we can only wish that justice will prevail but we all know that all this will just fade away, our little politicians will continue to be bought and paid for by all the big dollar developers, it's maybe time for a recall and investigation of present and former city employees from the mayor on down!! Looks like we will be hiring some more of those consultants and lawyers that the city seems to have on speed dial

1 person likes this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2015 at 10:35 am

This town ain't that big or important to have all this conspiracy. For all this talk, you'd think the mafia, drug cartels, and street gangs would be roaming the streets. All I hear here is a bunch of angry, obsessed affluent people screaming insults from the back row and living where're people envy the address. To keep it real, get campaign donations for all candidates and elected and not just the ones you disagree with.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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