SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Three former San Francisco public officials pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that they took $20,000 in bribes from an FBI undercover agent, authorities said.
The charges stem from the federal prosecution of Raymond ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow, who was found guilty earlier this year of arranging the 2006 murder of Chinatown leader Allen Leung, the “dragonhead” or leader of the Ghee Kung Tong and 161 other counts. He faces a potential life sentence in federal prison.
Keith Jackson, a former school board president turned political consultant, former Human Rights Commissioner Nazly Mohajer and former commission staff member Zula Mae Jones are accused of soliciting and accepting bribes in exchange for preferential treatment on city contracts.
The three were arrested and charged in January but held off on entering a plea until now while defense attorneys fought efforts by the prosecution to keep details of the case under seal, a move that attorneys said hampered their ability to defend their clients.
Prosecutors successfully argued that unsealing the complaint and affidavit in the case, which stems from a previous federal investigation, could jeopardize undercover agents, witnesses and innocent parties.
After months of dueling legal motions, defense attorneys agreed to move forward with the case after prosecutors said they would file the arrest affidavit in a public but heavily redacted form.
Despite the agreement, however, tensions remain high in the case.
Defense attorney John Keker, who is representing Jones, called the redactions “stupid” and “transparent,” alleging that they appeared to be primarily redacting the names of Mayor Ed Lee, former Mayor Willie Brown and other public officials.
Keker also accused Assistant District Attorney Kelly Burke of “sitting on” potentially exculpatory information from the defense — which under a state law signed into law last week is now potentially a felony offense.
Outside court, he said prosecutors were only allowing defense to see material if they sign agreements that hamper their ability to investigate the case.
Keker said he planned to continue to fight for the release of more material, promising “we’re going to have World War III” over the issue. He also said he would consider going to the state attorney general or filing a civil rights lawsuit if needed.
Burke called the allegations “outrageous” and said that any evidence in the case is available to the defense “subject to the protective order.”
Deputy Public Defender Niki Solis, who is representing Jackson, said while she did not like the redactions, she wanted to move forward with the case, which involves charges dating back to 2012.
Jackson is already serving a federal prison term in connection with the Chow case.
“He’s been dragged through the mud, he’s been kicked while he’s down,” Solis said of Jackson, noting that he had no criminal record before the federal prosecution. “This whole prosecution, it flummoxes me because he’s already serving time in prison.”
Mohajer and Jones were not charged in the federal case, but their names were publicly connected to the case in excerpts of FBI wiretap applications cited in a filing by Chow’s attorneys last year.
The defendants were ordered to return to court on Oct. 11 to set a preliminary hearing date.