Suit against zoning board’s Tregub resolved after apology

Igor Tregub
Current ZAB commissioner Igor Tregub. Photo: courtesy Igor Tregub

The president of the Berkeley Property Owners Alliance has dropped a libel lawsuit against Igor Tregub, a former candidate for the Rent Stabilization Board and a current Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner, ending three years of controversy.

Sid Lakireddy and Tregub resolved the lawsuit after Tregub agreed to apologize for sending out an inflammatory email during the 2012 election linking Lakireddy to crimes committed by his uncle, Lakireddy Bali Reddy.

Tregub recently emailed the apology to his mailing list — to the same people who received the controversial email during the election.

“On October 18, 2012, I made a fateful mistake,” Tregub wrote. “The intent of this email is to apologize to a valued member of the Berkeley community who was rightly upset by my printed words.


“In the midst of a heated campaign for reelection, I mistakenly made inaccurate accusations about the President of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, Sid Lakireddy. I wrongly connected him to crimes committed in the 1990’s by one of his uncles, Lakireddy Balireddy, that had absolutely nothing to do with Sid.”

The email continues: “As I have come to learn, not only was Sid Lakireddy completely uninvolved in his uncle’s misdeeds, he had absolutely no knowledge of them as a young man growing up in Merced at the time. During the eventual course of the uncle’s trial, Sid was pursuing graduate studies 3000 miles away, at Columbia University.

“Though our experiences and politics may be different, Sid Lakireddy and I share something in common that is of great importance to both of us. My parents brought me to the United States as a young child; they did so to make sure that the opportunities that were denied to them as Jews in the former Soviet Union could not hold me back from pursuing my dreams. Similarly, Sid’s family immigrated to the United States from India to give Sid and his brother opportunities that only this country could afford. Through hard work and dedicated public service, both of our families succeeded in honest endeavors that contributed to their respective communities. Sid’s father and brother are renowned cardiologists and philanthropists in Merced. And in his own right Sid has been a pillar in the Berkeley community, both in providing reliable and safe housing and as a philanthropist, giving generously of his time and money to Berkeley’s public schools, homeless shelters, the arts, and a variety of other important causes.

“I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering that my poorly chosen words caused to Sid, and his family and friends. No one should ever be implicated – directly or by hyperbole – for the transgressions of a family member. With hard work, an innovative spirit, and the willingness to pay it forward, anyone who enters this country – as well as their children and grandchildren – have the right to be judged by the merit of their actions rather than events over which they had no control. Such are the ideals upon which our country has been built from the beginning.

The United States (the birthplace of the First Amendment) and Berkeley (the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement) have also demonstrated to the rest of the world that it is possible here to speak our minds and participate in our shared governance without fear of reprisals. But this freedom of speech that we cherish is not free, and must be used soberly and responsibly. If we focus on issues and not personalities, if we on occasion must agree to disagree but can do so without being disagreeable, and if we choose to focus on those beliefs that unite us rather than rend each other asunder based on our differences, the future of our city and our country will be bright indeed. With this heartfelt apology and clarification of the record, I hope to turn a new leaf and forge a lasting working relationship with Sid Lakireddy built upon our shared values, common dreams, and mutual understanding.


Sincerely,

Commissioner Igor Tregub.”

In the original October 2012 email, Tregub had linked Sid Lakireddy to his uncle, Lakireddy Bali Reddy, who was convicted in 2001 in one of the most notorious human trafficking cases in the Bay Area.

“The Berkeley Property Owners Association President — the same guy whose family was caught in a human trafficking ring and was complicit in murder — sent out a notice to mega-landlords attacking me, for, among other things, being elected as your DNC Obama Delegate!” the 2012 email said, according to court documents. The statement was emphasized in blue in the email and was hyperlinked to a lengthy article on sex trafficking by New American Media and the San Francisco Public Press. Tregub’s signature was at the bottom of the email, as were those of Judy Shelton, Ada Dodsworth and Alejandro Soto-Vigil.

At the time of the 2012 email, Tregub and Lakireddy were on opposite sides of the fight to elect a slate of candidates for Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board. Tregub was running for re-election on the Tenants Convention Slate, which also included Dodsworth, Shelton, and Soto-Vigil.


Lakireddy Bali Reddy, who was once one of Berkeley’s wealthiest landlords managing more than 1,000 apartments, was sentenced to eight years in jail in 2001 on charges of transporting minors for illegal sexual activity, conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, and filing false tax returns. Bali Reddy had been bringing in young girls from India illegally and forcing some of them into sexual slavery. His actions became public after one of the girls, 17-year-old Chanti Pratipatti, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in November 1999 while sleeping in a Bali Reddy apartment in Berkeley.

The four Rent Board candidates who are being sued are Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Igor Tregub, Judy Shelton and Asa Dodsworth
Sid Lakireddy originally sued the four Rent Board candidates on the Tenants Convention Slate for libel. Cases against Alejandro Soto-Vigil (far left), Judy Shelton (second from right) and Asa Dodsworth (far right) were dropped after a court fight; the case against Igor Tregub (second from left) was dropped after he issued an apology

Sid Lakireddy was supporting the TUFF, or Tenants United for Fairness, slate, a field of candidates who were more sympathetic to landlords than Tregub’s slate. The TUFF candidates also backed a critical Alameda County Grand Jury report that said the rent board lacked accountability and its director’s $183,000 salary was too high. The Tenants Convention Slate disputed that.

Lakireddy and other supporters of the TUFF slate poured around $45,000 into the campaign in an effort to defeat the Tenants Convention Slate. Tregub was defeated, but the other three candidates were elected. The only TUFF candidate to win a seat on the rent board was Judy Hunt.

Lakireddy, and a group who mailed out endorsements for the TUFF slate, paid $4,000 in fines in 2013 for the way they handled mailings during the election. They paid the fine after working out a stipulated agreement with the Fair Campaign Practices Commission.

Originally, Lakireddy sued the entire Tenants Convention Slate because Tregub had affixed all their names to the email. The Alameda County Superior Court ruled that Lakireddy only had reason to sue Tregub, because the others did not know about the email in advance. The suit against them was dropped in April 2014.

Neither Tregub nor Andy Cohn, Lakireddy’s attorney, would comment on whether there was a monetary component of the lawsuit. Cohn said the two sides have agreed to a confidentiality agreement.

Related:
Sid Lakireddy sues rent board candidate for libel (05.30.13)
Landlord-backed group fined for campaign violations (05.20.13)
Commission to consider alleged campaign violations (12.13.12)

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