SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A state trial judge said she will revisit a year-old protective order guarding evidence in a political bribery case against three San Francisco politicos charged with accepting bribes and laundering donations to retire Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign debt.
Former San Francisco school board president Keith Jackson, Human Rights Commissioner Nazly Mohajer and commission staffer Zula Mae Jones face corruption charges involving a scheme to collect and divide up $20,000 in campaign donations using straw donors. The three were charged in January 2016.
Jones and Mohajer have been charged with four counts of bribery and one count of money laundering each. Jackson faces the same charges as well as one count of grand theft of public funds and six misdemeanor counts of campaign finance fraud.
The charges stem from the federal government’s racketeering case against Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, whom a federal jury in January convicted of money laundering, racketeering, ordering a murder and conspiring to murder another gang rival.
Jackson was a defendant in that trial and is currently serving a nine-year sentence.
The federal investigation also led to the conviction of former state Sen. Leland Yee on one count of felony racketeering, for accepting campaign donations from undercover FBI agents in exchange for political favors.
The case is currently in the preliminary hearing stage, to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to bring the trio to trial. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Tracie Brown said she’ll rule on May 1 whether to modify an earlier ruling from Judge Edward Torpoco protecting information that the prosecution has argued could harm confidential FBI informants and other public officials named in wiretaps that were not charged with any wrongdoing, such as Mayor Lee.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the trio’s defense team argued the protective order is no longer necessary, since the prosecution has already made a redacted version of its charging affidavit public. They’ve also said the protective order is making it very difficult for them to put a defense together, since crucial details of the investigation remain under seal.
Jones’ lawyer John Keker grilled FBI Special Agent Ethan Quinn over alleged bribes from an undercover FBI agent named Michael Anthony King, who posed as a real estate developer in Atlanta with ties to the New York mafia.
King presented himself as a legitimate businessman hoping to invest in San Francisco’s black community by developing senior living facilities, Keker said. Prosecutors say King wined and dined Jackson with expensive meals and a trip to an Arizona Cardinals game, and paid him “under the table,” as Quinn put it, for help with “business opportunities.”
“Under the table – is that something they teach you to say in FBI school?” Keker asked Quinn, who responded that the phrase – as found in the affidavit he wrote – best described the nature of transactions.
“This was something Mr. King wanted to keep off the books,” Quinn said.
The examination got contentious when Keker pressed Quinn to answer whether an offer of face time with the mayor was illegal or immoral.
Quinn said it depended on what illegal or immoral means.
“I’m not trying to be evasive,” Quinn said.
“You’re not? When you are trying to be evasive, how do you act?” Keker shot back. Changing tack, he then asked: “Is it illegal to ask for a campaign contribution in exchange for a meeting?”
Quinn said no, but that King had made it clear he was willing to pay to do business in San Francisco.
If convicted, Jones and Mohajer face a maximum sentence of seven years and eight months in state prison. Jackson faces 11 years and four months if convicted.