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Unaccountable: Burberry scarf-wearing labor queen Amy Dean's unblemished record took a hit as allegations surfaced of financial mismanagement by South Bay Labor Council leadership.

Scandalous

The year in scandals, in titillating 20/20 vision

2004. When the future casts its robotically enhanced eyes back on our juvenile little year, what will it see? Will we be remembered for our dedication to a naughty dramedy called Desperate Housewives? For squeakily sending to the White House a man who dare not speak error's name? For feigning shock that our pro athletes use steroids?

The future, it is probably safe to say, will remember us less for iPod afternoons spent drowsing to Usher than for our scandals. Scandals make great history. Who cares what books Thomas Jefferson kept in his library—what we really want to know is, did he father Sally Hemings' children? George Washington, first president, blah blah blah, whatever. Did he lie about that tree-chopping business? Abe Lincoln: really that tall or did he wear lifts?

To assist future scholars, we have taken it upon ourselves to compile 2004: The Year in Scandals. Silicon Valley and the world were rife with rumors this year, some of which had actual repercussions, many of which wilted wimpily. From Janet Jackson's nipplegate to Bush's debate bulge to (on the local level) Terry Gregory's box o' wine, what was eyebrow-raising gets raised again by our shockproof team of sleuths.

Happy 2005, keeping scandals alive!

Traci Vogel



The Gonzales Scandals

The most dependable and prolific local producer of scandals in 2004 is the mayoral administration of San Jose's Ron Gonzales, whose carefully managed image as a straight arrow has precipitously unraveled over time. To give all of Gonzales' scandals proper attention in these pages would squeeze out another half-dozen worthy scandals, so space limits force us to catalog his scandalous activities in bullet points.

* In June, Metro reported that Gonzales had become a regular at "the next Pebble Beach"—an exclusive championship course in San Martin where memberships cost a quarter-million dollars—thanks to his generous lobbyist friends who have free golfing privileges. Even though his buddies represent clients who do business with the city, Gonzales considers his golf time "social" and does not report it on his official calendar. Claiming that he tips caddies in cash to pay his share, Gonzales later admitted screwing up the math and writing a check to the private, exclusive CordeValle golf club for $275. There has never been an independent audit to determine whether the golf-addicted Gonzales accepted favors from the lobbyists he golfs with, or whether the paltry payment settled the matter.

* A sweetheart deal for Cisco to install an $8 million phone system in the new City Hall cost two city officials their jobs and resulted in what the Mercury News called "one of the broadest probes of wrongdoing in San Jose government history," including a criminal investigation by the district attorney's office. Even though the mayor had enjoyed a close relationship with Cisco's CEO, Gonzales proclaimed, ''I know for myself and for my office that there was no involvement'' in the botched procurement deal. Gonzales did, however, accept $7,000 in travel and lodging from Cisco for a junket to Sweden in December 2003.

* Gonzales cleverly set up an political action committee fund that permitted him to bank contributions 20 times above local limits. The fund can be used to pay for the mayor's meals, travel and phone bills. Gonzales raised $143,000 in a 15-month period, according to published reports, in amounts of up to $5,000. Among the largest contributors were companies hoping to develop large projects in the environmentally sensitive Coyote Valley. A local family-owned water company objected in a complaint to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission. "Using the ruse of a controlled committee to collect money used personally by the mayor represents the worst in political chicanery, the sole purpose of which is to buy influence,'' attorneys for the Great Oaks Water Company wrote. "In any other context, these monies would be treated as gifts, not political contributions.''

* Two former aides to the mayor, Tony Arreola and Sharanjit ''Sean'' Kali-Rai, violated the city's "revolving door" ordinance by working for owners of the Tropicana Shopping Center within a year of exiting City Hall. According to a complaint filed by the city attorney, neither Arreola nor Kali-Rai registered as lobbyists in 2001, as the law required.

* Budget director Joe Guerra's wife received a real estate commission on a transaction related to a housing and compensation package negotiated by her husband with City Manager Del Borgsdorf. Conflict-of-interest laws prohibit public officials from profiting from deals in which they are involved.

* The mayor closed a chapter on the sex scandal that rocked his administration by marrying his lover and ex-employee Guisselle Nunez in September. The wedding took place at the ultraexclusive Corde Valle Country Club. Gonzales has not disclosed how he paid for the event on his government salary.

 

Barring All

Investigative reporter Sy Hersh helped break undoubtedly the biggest scandal to shake the scandalous occupation of the Fertile Crescent. Abu Ghraib is in no need of an introduction. Electric shocks, naked photo shoots, snarling guard dogs, questions of accountability—Abu Ghraib provided all that and more. But perhaps the sordid goings-on in the Iraqi prison overshadowed an equally ignominious example of American justice: the ongoing and indefinite detention of uncharged men at the Guantanamo military base in Cuba. This despite the fact that the prisoners—mostly collected during the war in Afghanistan—are somehow, in a bit of tricky logic, not considered prisoners of war. The illegal detentions have, most recently, inspired the British play (also performed in the United States) Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom. In it, actors used only the transcripts of interviews of four Guantanamo detainees (two of whom have since been released). "Surely, they could figure out which ones are dangerous?" asks one character in the play. Apparently not.

Najeeb Hasan

 

Star Whores Missile Defense

News that the Pentagon's latest test of the national missile defense system ended in failure came as no surprise to readers of CounterPunch, the political newsletter edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, which has been tracking the project closely. The skeletal remains of Reagan's preposterous Star Wars fantasy were exhumed post-9/11 by the Bush administration, which promised to have at least a rudimentary national missile defense system up and running by December 2004. In fact, the administration was in such a hurry to deploy the system, St. Clair points out in the latest print edition of CP, that it simply ignored mountains of data showing that it doesn't work: "The scheme is so accelerated that the Pentagon admits that they have no idea how missiles would be launched, who would give the order to launch them and whether they will have even the remotest chance of hitting their target." The Pentagon claims five out of eight previous attempts to intercept an incoming nuclear-tipped missile have been successful, but St. Clair says the claim is dubious, since in every test all the flight information for the target was provided to the intercepting missile in advance. "Hitting the target only 60 percent of the time under these rigged conditions is like flunking the test even after you've stolen the exam," St. Clair writes. The system, currently being deployed in Alaska and at California's Vandenberg Air Base, is the most expensive item on the Pentagon's budget, costing U.S. taxpayers $10 billion a year and a total of $70 billion so far. Who gets the money? The usual suspects: MIT, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, etc.

R.V. Scheide

 

Dispatch Patch

You may have noticed San Jose police officers fumbling with something near their dashboards this year, instead of keeping their eyes on the road—and possibly on you rolling through that stop sign. SJPD's new $4.7 million high-tech mobile dispatch system planted in every patrol car in June had one officer so distracted that he ran into a parked car. The police officers' union criticized the department's ambitious move, which failed to consult users about the Windows-based, touch-screen consoles they would be navigating. Some older officers in their 50s and 60s had to be trained on basic computer skills before they were out on the streets—some were afraid the complex device would fail them in a life-and-death situation. Where's the red button when you need it? After system crashes, inaccuracies with the Global Positioning function, false red alerts and problems performing simple license-plate checks, Intergraph (the company that developed the software) said the initial bugs had been ironed out and a delayed learning curve among users was to be expected. Police Chief Rob Davis may have had his head in the glittering future of law enforcement, but the good old-fashioned donut-and-coffee cops may not be following him there.

Vrinda Normand

 

Going Into Labor

Metro readers got a rare glimpse into the secretive inner workings of the South Bay Labor Council, San Jose's ruling political force, when the advocate for the underdog became the target of a lawsuit alleging that labor bigwigs mistreated their own workers ("Inside the Dean Machine," March 24). Two former workers filed the lawsuits. Labor responded by sullying the reputations of the accusers, pointing out that the accountant has a felony conviction in her record. "For a labor council, they don't live by the labor law," one former employee said. In addition to claiming bad employment practices, the suit alleged "numerous illegalities ... including massive use of union and company credit cards ... for personal use, outright embezzlement of union and other funds, blatant pilfering of union and other moneys ... and other abuses of fraud, embezzlement and theft." The suit threatened to lay bare the labor council's use of $6 million in funds raised by its charitable corporation, Working Partnerships, including commingling of expenses with its political arm, which helped elect the ruling majority of the San Jose City Council. SBLC exec Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins first offered to provide records to disprove the allegations, then reneged, citing the litigation. Will the offer of transparency return now that accuser Geraldine Lavallee and a co-plaintiff dropped their suit after squabbles with their attorney? Lavallee is now being shipped to Iraq to fight a less fierce enemy. Labor, meanwhile is celebrating the election of its newest ally, Nancy Pyle, to the San Jose City Council, as well as Ira Ruskin's success in the hard-fought state Assembly battle against millionaire Steve Poizner.

Najeeb Hasan

 

Dinner With Terry

Party animal Terry Gregory, a freshman San Jose councilmember, let local developers and restaurateurs wine and dine him, and he neglected to pay for a list of items that ranged from egg rolls to a delicacy known as "crystal crab" and a six-bottle case of red wine that retails for more than $1,000. On one wine-soaked occasion in January 2003, Gregory and his chief of staff Craig Mann enjoyed an evening of karaoke and cuisine with Congressman Mike Honda and chef Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook), and Metro readers are the first nonattendees to glimpse that historic event with the publication of exclusive, never-before-seen photos that appear in this week's issue.

Signs that the party was winding down emerged when the CHP caught Gregory speeding down San Jose's Monterey Highway, and the daily newspaper began relentlessly thumping on a cascading wave of allegations that ranged from petty—he's not the first member of the City Council to stuff his stomach for free—to more serious violations of the city's gift reporting and election finance laws.

When Mann came forward in November with claims that Gregory pressured local businesses for donations to a community activity fund as part of a wrongful termination claim, his council colleagues, initially wary of flinging stones around a glass house, tossed him to the wolves on Dec. 17 with an unprecedented 10-0 resolution of censure. Four councilmembers have called for his resignation, and the mayor stripped him of committee assignments.

The more serious allegations surround Mann's testimony that Gregory instructed him to shred checks received after the campaign reporting deadline, and the city's election commission found at least 25 code violations in Gregory's conduct. More public humiliation, including a grand jury investigation into loans that Gregory may have received as well as a probable action by the district attorney, should commence in '05.

Vrinda Normand

 

Having a Football

The year was bookended by a couple of television episodes comical if not for the shrill yapping in the aftermath. The first, of course, was Janet's right areola, flashed during the Super Bowl, about which a half-million viewers complained, forcing the FCC to levy a half-million-dollar fine on CBS, about $1 per viewer as it turned out. The second was Terrell Owens cradling nude actress Nicolette Sheridan in his arms, for which ABC was forced to apologize. Both incidents sparked the kind of moralizing that pops up occasionally in America, giving paternalistic newspaper columnists something to write about. (Quick quiz: Anybody remember Lenny Bruce or Lady Chatterley's Lover?) The outrage was twofold: anger at attacks on "civilized society," teaching sex-ed, for example, instead of abstinence, and the rise of no-fault divorce. And anger at the NFL, television networks, Janet Jackson, Desperate Housewives and anybody else using sex to sell products. The outrage spilled over into unexpected areas. More than 60 ABC affiliates declined to air Saving Private Ryan because they feared fines for showing a film in which soldiers uttered words commonly uttered on battlefields across the globe. Yes, it was an election year, which explains a lot. But something else was also at work. Social conservatives feel the end is nigh, no doubt, because of the crumbling of taboos. Sodomy is now legal across the country, thanks to America's conservative Supreme Court, and thousands of gays and lesbians married this year without managing to disrupt the state of the union. If these things can happen under a religionist president like George W. Bush, what happens when Hillary Clinton takes residence in the White House?

W. Dean Hinton

 

Steroids 'R' Us

By now, everyone's analyzed to death whether or not Barry Bonds knew those bizarre substances, "the clear" and "the cream," were anabolic steroids. While Bonds claims he never knowingly did anything illegal, his personal trainer, Greg Anderson, is one of four indicted in a steroid-distribution ring. Victor Conte of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) was also indicted and says he saw Olympic track star Marion Jones inject herself with Human Growth Hormone. She's now suing him for defamation. Who the hell is telling the truth? Yankees star Jason Giambi admitted in court that he did indeed use steroids that he got from Anderson. But who leaked the grand jury testimony? Only the San Francisco Chronicle knows. Sen. John McCain even stuck his nose into the situation, and baseball commissioner Bud Selig said he would welcome government intervention. Wow. I guess these guys are serious. Government intervention? The whole shootin' match makes for a great soap opera. How do you tell your kids that 80 percent of baseball players take stimulants before each game? At least that's what Conte said. Do you believe him? And who else thinks "the clear" strangely reminds one of Scientology?

Gary Singh

 

Deer John

Who Killed Bambi? asks the new French cinematic thriller. In Birchwood, Wis., Bambi got clean away when deer-hunting season in the north woods opened with a shootout between trigger-happy predators gunning for "the most dangerous game." On Nov. 21, a group of sportsmen excited by the prospect of some serious killing after months of off-season indolence converged on Robert Crotteau's 400-acre forest property for some male bonding and mammal massacring. As they approached their favorite hunting blind, they discovered an interloper named Chai Vang already ensconced. They hailed their fellow deer slayer and informed him that he was trespassing. What happened next is mired in a Rashomon-like series of conflicting reports about who said what to whom and who squeezed off a round first, but when the smoke had cleared, five hunters had been killed by Vang with what the Associated Press described as "a cheap but powerful semiautomatic weapon." Three others were seriously wounded (one eventually succumbing to his wounds); Vang was arrested. This tragedy, which marred what Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle solemnly called "a great family tradition like a deer hunt," was further complicated by the revelation that Vang was a member of the local Hmong community, who came to the United States about 25 years ago reeling from war in Indochina. Ever since, there have been racial tensions between the Hmong and white locals, including charges that the Hmong don't respect property rights and countercharges that the hunters had threatened Vang with racial epithets. In another great family tradition, there have been reports since of a rise in racial slurs and hate speech directed at Hmong in Wisconsin.

Michael S. Gant

 

Martha Stewart 'Living' in Prison

Domestic queen Martha Stewart is nesting in a rural West Virginia prison after a U.S. District Court Judge slapped her with five months in the slammer, five months pent up at home (not a sweat for this savvy homemaker) and a $30,000 fine—a drop in the bucket for Ms. Stewart, whose net worth grew by a quarter of a billion dollars during her first two months behind bars, starting Oct. 8. If anything, being locked up has been a financial windfall for the 62-year-old cookbook CEO. Martha Stewart Omnimedia's stock has risen 62 percent since her prison term began.

In March, Ms. Stewart was found guilty of conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice after selling $232,000 worth of ImClone Systems shares. Ms. Stewart sat straight-faced through the trial, even when her own assistant, Ann Armstrong, testified that Ms. Stewart tried to erase a phone message from her broker, who said ImClone was going to start trading downward. The defense offered up a bare-bones strategy, calling only one witness to the stand, Ms. Stewart's lawyer. In the end, the jury and judge were not swayed in the celebrity's direction. The scandal remains a victory in battling white-collar crime, but it may prove to be a victory for the culprit as well. Ms. Stewart has already signed on for an NBC cooking and style show, which will be taped in front of a live audience and feature more celebrities and humor. Mark Burnett, the man behind reality TV and now the new Stewart venture, has visited the domestic goddess in prison, although, he says, not to discuss business matters, which would violate prison rules.

Vrinda Normand

 

Vital Signs ...Weak

As of Dec. 9, there's no room for emergency in downtown San Jose. The closing of San Jose Medical Center chopped the number of trauma centers in Santa Clara County from three to two—leaving downtown, one of the neediest areas in Silicon Valley, up ouch creek without a defibrillator paddle. After Tennessee-based for-profit company Hospital Corporation of America purchased San Jose Medical Center, it claimed the place was hemorrhaging money. But records provided to Metro by SEIU Local 250, a union representing hospital workers, disclosed that in fact the medical center would have cleared a profit in both 2000 and 1999 if it had not had to pay HCA millions of dollars for unspecified "services" (Cover Story, "Medical Alert," Sept. 19, 2002). Then, HCA spokespeople said the center had to be closed because costs of seismically retrofitting it were prohibitive. Finally, after saying it would keep the center open until 2007, HCA pulled a switcheroo and announced that it was closing this year. About half of SJMC's 900 employees will be placed at other HCA facilities. As for emergency-room patients, the estimated 31,000 of them SJMC served last year will have to limp on to other hospitals.

Traci Vogel

 

Scott Peterson's Rock-the-Boat Murder Trial

It had all the hallmarks of a court case for the ages: unassuming former fertilizer salesman kills beautiful wife—pregnant! his college sweetheart! a substitute teacher!—while carrying on a sordid affair with a bleached-blonde masseuse. Wife's body washes up on the shores of San Francisco Bay; the remains of her fetus follow a few days later. Scott Peterson's murder trial made more People magazine covers than any other case in history. One thousand trial junkies lined up outside the Redwood City courtroom to cheer his guilty verdict—murder in the first degree for his wife, second-degree murder for his son. In the end, it took a jury 11 1/2 hours to decide that Peterson should get the death penalty—but not before one jury member literally rocked the boat, meriting disqualification by boarding a replica of Peterson's fishing craft to test its stability against the judge's orders. The real scandal may have been the defense, a lackluster effort led by celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, of whom talk-radio host John Kobylt said, "If Mark Geragos represents you, it means you're guilty." Geragos' team tried to paint Peterson as the clean-cut high school golf captain who sang songs to seniors on the weekends and cared for the mentally retarded, while the prosecution hammered away at Peterson's phone sex with his mistress. Finally, the defense could only puff, "I wish there was a phrase I could give you ... that could make you believe there is good, real good, in this person ... but I don't have that phrase." The jury had a phrase: Death row at San Quentin—with a view overlooking San Francisco Bay, where Laci's body was found.

Traci Vogel

 

Really, O'Reilly

Now, let's be fair and balanced—Bill O'Reilly was only accused of sexual harassment by plaintiff Andrea Mackris. The case was settled, so we'll never know if O'Reilly really suggested time and time again that he and Mackris engage in phone sex, as her complaint said. We'll never know if O'Reilly really called her up and described a Caribbean shower fantasy with her. No, it shall remain undisclosed whether or not he actually bragged about the size of his Johnson and how none of his extramarital affairs would ever spill the details. Did a girl at a Thai sex bar show him things that blew his mind, as Mackris claimed he said? Will Fox News even talk about the whole thing for more than three seconds? Of course not, because O'Reilly's ratings actually went up after the whole mess.

Item No. 83 in the complaint says this: "After climaxing, Defendant BILL O'REILLY again boasted that none of the women he'd engaged in sexual relations with would ever tell: 'Nobody'd believe 'em ... they wouldn't [tell] anyway, I can't imagine any of them ever doing that 'cuz I always made friends with women before I bedded them down.'" O'Reilly never once denied any of Mackris' claims, and the case was settled out of court. The next chapter of Elmer Gantry is written, and if Sinclair Lewis were alive, he'd raise a glass and toast the occasion.

Gary Singh

 

Bush's Mystery Bulge

If President Bush's piss-poor performance at the first debate against John Kerry weren't scandalous enough (this cantankerous rube is our president?), post-debate photos of a mysterious bulge beneath W's jacket promised a bona fide brouhaha. But the public never latched onto the bulge, and the story faded away. While it would be easy to dismiss photos that showed a rectangular protrusion between Bush's shoulder blades as so much Photoshop chicanery, Fox News shot and distributed the footage of the debate—and while Fox can't be counted on to report fairly or accurately, you can bet they didn't doctor any photos of their commander in chief. A host of experts went on the record to say Bush was indeed wired and possibly receiving a live feed during the debate from Karl Rove or some other White House puppet master. Dr. Robert M. Nelson, a senior research scientist for NASA and for Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and an authority on image analysis, told Salon.com that he'd stake his career on the fact that the President was wearing something under his jacket. And after viewing photos from the first two debates, master tailor Frank Shattuck told the New York Daily News there was "definitely" something hidden under Bush's jacket.

Bush's best defense against those trying to make a mountain out of his bulge would have been his debate performance itself. If someone was feeding me information, the president could have said, don't you think I woulda sounded a lot smarter and had some coherent answers? Instead, Bush relied on a much lamer excuse: The president dismissed the bulge as bad tailoring. Right. As a man of wealth and privilege, Bush didn't dash into a Men's Wearhouse and grab his suit and shirt off the rack at a downtown mall. I guarantee it.

Stett Holbrook

 

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad...Cow

Alarm bells went off again in November when the brain of a cow tested positive for mad cow disease. While follow-up tests ultimately ruled out the brain-wasting disease, the chances for mad cow contamination of the U.S. burger and steak supply is still a scandal waiting to happen. Late last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that a Canadian-born dairy cow slaughtered in Washington had tested positive for mad cow. By that time, the cow's meat had been ground into hamburger, mixed into a 10,000-pound shipment and sold.

Cows evolved to eat grass, not each other. But in an effort to promote efficiency and cost savings, large-scale cattle producers used to feed their cattle bits and pieces of their fellow bovines. Trouble is, cows can get mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, by eating meat or tissue from infected animals. And humans who eat the infected meat can get a similar disease that's usually fatal. The feds banned feeding ground-up cows and other ruminants to cows, but feed manufacturers still occasionally distribute contaminated livestock feed. Last year, the Department of Agriculture promised it would implement a nationwide animal identification program to trace an infected cow back to its farm of origin. But they never did. And what's really scandalous is when the next mad cow enters the marketplace, there's no mandatory recall system in place. It's up to the industry to police itself.

In October, the governator vetoed a bill that would have let Californians know whether they've purchased contaminated meat or poultry. The bill, SB 1585, would have ended a secrecy agreement between the Department of Agriculture and California that prevents the state from disclosing the names and locations of stores that receive shipments of recalled meat. Garden burger, anyone?

Stett Holbrook

 

Not-So-Swift Boat Veterans Sink S.S. Kerry

When the Dems first latched onto the lugubrious millionairess-marrying John Kerry, they thought they had finally beaten the Republicans at their own game: at last, the party could boast a presumptive nominee who had actually served his country in combat under enemy fire. Then the Orwellian-named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth blistered Kerry with TV ads claiming that the slow-talking Francophile was a phony war hero who hid from actual combat, lied to earn his five medals, exaggerated his wounds and alienated his crew. So virulent and unsubstantiated were the accusations that even Bill O'Reilly, not exactly a towering figure in the moral landscape, recoiled. President Bush forthrightly stepped forward to say that he didn't think that Kerry was a liar—although he also stopped short of condemning the ads and, in a neat turnabout, shifted attention to his own plight as a victim of so-called 527 political groups. W's concern congealed a bit when Benjamin Ginsberg, one of his election lawyers, resigned from the campaign because he was moonlighting as a consultant for the Swifties.

By the time the Democratic Convention rolled into Boston and Kerry "reported for duty," the debate over character had plunged down the rabbit hole. Kerry, who had actually volunteered for the most hazardous duty in Nam and, by all accounts from the men who had served directly under him, acted bravely, if not downright heroically, was roundly perceived as some kind of malingerer stealing K4 rations from real soldiers. Meanwhile, George W. Bush, who under the best possible interpretation had used his family connections to land a cushy home-front gig in the National Guard and then bothered to show up for duty only when it suited his busy schedule, was given a free pass for his suspect military service. John Kerry sunk in the polls, never to fully recover.

Michael S. Gant

 

Killer Competition

A group of high school kids hacked into computers to steal English and math tests, look for answers and change grades. Two sophomore sweethearts, in separate incidents, stockpiled explosive chemicals and wrote a death threat to their principal. Just another semester in the twisted life of Saratoga High School, where the culture of success pushes kids to do all sorts of bizarre things, like commit suicide. The stress and strain of the scandal resulted in at least one casualty: Kevin Skelly, Saratoga's principal the past 11 years, escaped the pressure cooker to safer, saner San Diego. Candidates to replace him were given a battery of tests, including a 30-minute writing exam. Has anybody bothered to tell Saratoga parents and admin that the B and C students are more apt to achieve later in life? No? Then how do we explain George W. Bush?

W. Dean Hinton


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From the December 29, 2004-January 4, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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