By Alex Emslie
A new motion by Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow’s defense team in an ongoing federal racketeering and corruption case alleges the FBI’s four-year investigation into the San Francisco Chinatown leader implicated several sitting city politicians and other power players who were never indicted.
The San Francisco Examiner first reported on the sensational motion to dismiss federal charges against Chow for selective prosecution. In essence, the motion argues that federal prosecutors, including Northern California U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, chose to prosecute some officials netted in the FBI probe, while looking the other way concerning others.
The filing, brimming with colorful language, alleges the government’s investigation snagged “at least a dozen bottom feeding political types.” Read the entire motion and exhibits below.
“Each of these ‘public servants’ were allowed to progress through the November 2014 election process unscathed because of a protective order issued in this case,” the motion says. “Instead the public was allowed to stew in the indicted parties alleged culpability after a blast of media headlines, while people who actually were in a position to do damage while betraying the public trust remained nameless — all in the context of what was sold as a public corruption and organized crime investigation.”
The most prominent local name accused in the motion: Mayor Ed Lee.
“Specifically, the FBI alleged in discovery that Ed Lee took substantial bribes in exchange for favors and that Human Rights Commissioners, Nazly Mohajer and Zula Jones, hustled in these bribes for the Mayor,” the filing says. “The United States Attorney asked for a RICO charge on Keith Jackson and Leland Yee for similar conduct. Lee, Mohajer, and Jones remain unindicted.”
The allegation cites exhibits turned over to Chow’s defense team by federal prosecutors during the pretrial discovery process, but the exhibits fall short of catching Lee negotiating any bribes, and instead appear to implicate Mohajer and Jones in campaign finance swindling.
For instance, one of the exhibits notes a recorded phone call between convicted former political consultant Keith Jackson and Mohajer: “I believe this conversation related to Mohajer’s and Jackson’s previous fundraising for mayor Ed lee during the Mayoral campaign wherein they expected official action in return, but did not receive it.”
P.J. Johnston, Lee’s re-election campaign communications director, responded by email to a KQED inquiry to the mayor’s office: “While it appears others may have tried to engage or ensnare Mayor Lee and any number of other people in their own wrongdoing, there’s absolutely nothing in today’s filing by Raymond Chow’s attorneys that suggests that Mayor Lee himself or his 2011 campaign did anything wrong or inappropriate. As we have stated previously, Mayor Lee’s campaign is committed to following the letter and spirit of all campaign finance laws.”
The evidence also includes a description of meetings between Lee and an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman interested in developing senior assisted-living facilities in the city. The agent was introduced to Lee as someone who raised $10,000 to retire the mayor’s campaign debt, and then they discussed “bringing private business interest and development into San Francisco.” However, the defense did not produce evidence that any deal was ever struck.
The Examiner lays out some of what others allegedly said about Lee’s politics:
Jones was reported by the FBI to have said that former mayor Willie Brown taught Ed Lee to do business, according to the filing.
“You got to pay to play here. We got it. We know this. We are the best at this game, uh, better than New York. We do it a little more sophisticated that New Yorkers. We do it without the mafia,” the filing reports Jones to have said.
Mohajer allegedly “explained the process by which she launders Ed Lee’s campaign money,” said the filing, which went on to say that Lee took $20,000 in campaign contributions, gifts and trips in his first four months in office. The filing alleges that Jones and Mohajer said Lee “knew he was taking the money illegally.”
The motion includes another allegation that San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency employee Sululagi Palega sold a gun to an undercover FBI agent.
From the filing:
During a meeting at Waterbar Restaurant on the Embarcadero, Palega agreed to provide numerous weapons to the undercover agent so that the agent could protected his illegal narcotics business. Palega sold at least one firearm to the man who the FBI claims was allegedly an Italian Mafioso. Prior to the sale taking place, Palega used a City of San Francisco car to come and go from a meeting at Town Hall with UCE [undercover employee] 4599 at which Palega provided an update on his ability to procure assault rifles, hand grenades, and ammunition. He handed the UCE a Sees Candy box with a gun in it and said “Enjoy the candy.” He remains unindicted.
Chow’s defense attorneys also note several prominent San Francisco African-American leaders, including the head of the San Francisco NAACP and the organization’s second in command, and two sitting supervisors, all allegedly “implicated in dramatic pay to play schemes,” the motion says.
“You’re dealing with hearsay,” the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP, told KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler. “I have nothing to say.”
Supervisor Malia Cohen’s office did not respond to KQED’s requests for comment. Board of Supervisors President London Breed said in a statement that the accusations against her and others named in the motion are baseless.
“The only thing I’ve learned from this sad episode is that you should be very skeptical of what you read in the news, especially when it comes from an accused felon looking for anyone but himself to blame,” Breed said. “I’m not angry. It’s just very sad.”
Peter Jon Shuler and Tara Siler of KQED News contributed to this report.