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Richmond Politician Sentenced
Reese Gets Probation, Fine For Tax Evasion

February 3, 2001

Richmond -- Political consultant Darrell Reese, a former Richmond firefighter who was at the center of an FBI probe into alleged corruption involving city contracts,

was sentenced to three years' probation yesterday for tax evasion.

Reese, 64, of Rodeo, a retired fire captain who earned the nickname "the Teflon don" for surviving numerous investigations, pleaded guilty in October to federal charges of not reporting $40,000 in income from consulting on his 1996 and 1997 tax returns.

In federal court in Oakland yesterday, Reese, his voice barely audible, said, "I realize that I've done something illegal."

U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen, noting that Reese has no criminal history, sentenced him to three years' probation and ordered him to serve four months of home detention under electronic monitoring. The judge also levied a $1,000 fine.

Reese could have faced at least six months in prison and a fine of $250,000.

"This is a serious mistake," Jensen said. "You have accepted responsibility.

I agree with counsel that we will not see you back. It's tragic that you're here."

As Jensen pronounced his sentence, Reese's wife, Doris, 71, dabbed at her eyes. Reese declined to comment after the hearing.

Outside court, his attorney, Robert Breakstone of San Francisco, said, "We think the disposition was fair."

In 1999, Reese was among dozens of Richmond politicians questioned by the FBI as part of an investigation into alleged bribery of city officials in exchange for lucrative contracts since 1992. Reese has denied any wrongdoing.

Breakstone said Reese's plea and sentencing marks the culmination of the probe. "This ends it," the attorney said. "It is good to have it end finally."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles "Ben" Burch declined to comment on the status of the federal probe.

In court, Burch had urged Jensen to impose a stiffer fine, citing Reese's net worth of $400,000 and his "fairly good positive cash flow on a monthly basis."

Reese is known as an influential power broker and consultant to two major Richmond political organizations -- the firefighters union and a group of African American leaders called Black Men and Women.

In August, the firefighters union agreed to pay a $17,000 fine for violating nine counts of the California Fair Political Practices Act. The fine came after Reese admitted misrepresenting 1997 political donations as coming from retired firefighters and proceeds of a circus fund-raiser in an attempt to get around state contribution limits.

Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, one of Reese's staunchest critics, said yesterday that although the sentence was relatively light, it was "probably what you could expect." 

"I think some of us were hoping they'd make an example out of him and hit him a little harder," Butt said. 

The councilman said he believes that the FBI is still actively investigating Richmond politics. "Based on what I do know, they're still keeping a close eye on west county." 

E-mail Henry K. Lee at hlee@sfchronicle.com.