Berkeley City Council member under fire for alleged profit from public loan

Ariel Hayat/File

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Berkeley City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli is under fire after a Friday report from the Bay Area News Group claimed that he profited from a 2009 housing loan from the city for which he voted.

The $500,000 loan from public funds was granted to then-captain of the Seattle Police Department Michael Meehan in November 2009. Berkeley City Council granted the loan to help Meehan relocate to Berkeley to help him assume his current position of Berkeley Police Department chief of police.

Meehan used that loan, along with others, to buy a property in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood in 2010 for $1.185 million, where Capitelli was listed as his agent according to a report from the Bay Area News Group. The report also states that Capitelli split a $30,000 commission check for the sale with another agent in Red Oak Realty where he was a partner.

According to Capitelli, however, the document that listed him as Meehan’s agent was “entered in error.” Capitelli claimed that he has no financial connection with Red Oak Realty, and has not for several years.

Capitelli said his involvement in the purchase of the house was minimal. Instead, Capitelli claims he consulted with the real estate agent he said represented Meehan about “city issues such as sewer lines and creek beds.” But he doesn’t consider himself an adviser.

Capitelli added that the only payment he received from the sale was an unsolicited $5,925 payment from the agent for the help he provided her.

As for the Bay Area News Group report, Capitelli said, “I understand that reading that mistaken entry (in the document) could involve misinterpretation.”

In addition, the report found that at least 33 government agencies in the Bay Area provided housing assistance to top executives such as city managers, department heads and police chiefs, including Meehan.

“I think most people think it’s illegal to make money off your connections as a council member,” said city Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “When you vote to give someone a loan and you profit off your vote, that is a classic example of a conflict of interest.”

This has been the third major controversy involving Meehan since he became the Berkeley Police Department chief. The first incident was in 2012 when Meehan dispatched a BPD sergeant to the home of an Oakland Tribune reporter around midnight to request corrections to an article that had been posted to the newspaper’s website.

Later that year, BPD reported that police officers had been dispatched in January 2012 to search for Meehan’s son’s reportedly stolen iPhone. But a report was not immediately written up following the incident.

Worthington said it was unfair to blame Meehan for the latest event and added that he did not think the police chief knew Capitelli was his agent.

Contact Haruka Senju at [email protected] .