Shrimp Boy documents examined: A wildfire of San Francisco corruption
By Shawn Gaynor and John Shutt
Court filings revealed yesterday as part of the federal racketeering and corruption case against Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow exposed what appears to be a wide reaching ring of corruption, pay-offs, and patronage that threatens to ensnare a host of San Francisco's top elected officials, and political advisors, including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
Contained in the dismissal motion reported on yesterday by the San Francisco Examiner, and previously unpublished documents from the case provided below, former Human Rights Commission staffers Zula Jones and Nazly Mohajer appear to have accepted illegal contributions to pay off debts from Ed Lee’s 2011 mayoral campaign from an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman.
Jones reportedly told an FBI undercover posing as a businessman making an illegal $10,000 campaign donation to Lee, “You got to pay to play here. We got it. We know this. We are the best at this game … better than New York. We do it a little more sophisticated than New Yorkers. We do it without the mafia.
Additionally, filings in the case show an uneasy relationship of threats and intimidation by Chow against former Board of Supervisors chair David Chiu. According to the court documents, Chiu, now a California State Assembly representative, wore a FBI wire to record Chow during the investigation as part of a conflict over Chinatown’s popular Night Market fair.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors chairperson London Breed, former Housing Authority head Henry Alvarez, former school board president Keith Jackson, MTA manager Sululagi Palega, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Sharmin Bock, local NAACP president Amos Brown, and local NAACP vice president Arnold Townsend are also all represented in questionable circumstances in the documents.
The motion by Chow's lawyers to dismiss the federal racketeering and corruption case that has already brought down former California State Senator Leland Yee and others for an international gun running ring, outlines a wide-ranging FBI investigation into San Francisco politics and patronage. Chow's lawyers are motioning for a dismissal of the case based on what they claim has been selective prosecution. Chow’s defense asserts the prosecutors have ignored evidence of wrongdoing by Lee, and a host of top San Francisco Democrats gathered in the course of the investigation.
It's no secret that Mayor Lee has a cozy way of doing business with his friends. While the mayor has denied any wrongdoing, the documents paint a picture of pay-to-play patronage.
Documents detail Lee’s relationship to former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown who is described as mentoring Lee in the political patronage game.
While the dismissal motion in the Chow case has been been covered widely, the document is just one of many documents filed by Chow's lawyers on Aug. 4 that detail the inner workings of city politics. Given the scope of the accusations against Lee and others, we have decided to publish the Aug. 4 court filings in full in order the give the public the deepest possible access into the details of the case.
Highlights from the documents follow. Links to the Aug. 4 documents have been included at the end of the article.
883-main, 883-1, 883-2
This is the motion to dismiss filed by Chow’s lawyers and published yesterday by The Examiner, alleging that US Attorney Melinda Haag is selectively prosecuting Chow while ignoring evidence of corruption by Mayor Lee, his campaign associates, and other members of the San Francisco political elite.
This gag order forbids defendants from revealing certain kinds of information to the public. Chow’s lawyers claim that Chow does not agree with the protective order, and that it is being misused for political reasons to prevent him from speaking out in the press.
This document contains 22 previously unpublished excerpts from the investigation into Chow, which spanned to include former State Sen. Leland Yee, former San Francisco School Board president Keith Jackson, Mayor Ed Lee, and many other San Francisco Bay Area political figures. Some of the new details revealed in this document include:
•Former State Sen. Leland Yee told Chow to “lay low” because the FBI felt that Chow was “kicking sand in their faces” (page 1). Yee recently pled guilty to racketeering charges stemming from the case.
•Former Human Rights Commission staffer Zula Jones spoke with an undercover FBI agent about "pay to play" for Mayor Ed Lee, who was "pretty much trained and developed by Willie Brown," the former mayor of San Francisco and current columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle (page 3). Jones asked the undercover agent for a $10,000 contribution, which violates campaign finance laws that prohibit contributions over $500. Neither Jones nor Lee have been charged.
•More details from an FBI wiretap of Yee, showing collusion with former district attorney candidate Sharmin Bock in an illegal campaign fundraising scheme (page 3-4), with help from former San Francisco School Board president Keith Jackson and local businessman Derf Butler. Yee and Jackson have pled guilty to racketeering charges stemming from the case. Bock and Butler have not been charged.
•From the FBI file: “[Leland] Yee stated that Sharmin [Bock] can raise a lot of money because ‘she’s got CEO’s of Silicon Valley, this and that and shit like that’” (page 5). Sharmin Bock lost the election for district attorney, and remains a prosecutor in Alameda County. She has not been charged for the campaign check-swapping scheme.
• MTA manager Sululagi Palega offered to sell machine guns to an undercover FBI agent posing as a criminal running a weed farm in Mendocino County (page 5). Palega has not been charged.
•“Palega was very cautious about conducting any type of illegal business because he had personal relationships with Mayor Ed Lee and San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr,” drove an official City of San Francisco vehicle, offered a catalog of assault rifles and handguns, and sold an undercover agent a revolver in See’s Candy bag
•Local NAACP president Amos Brown was recorded on an FBI wiretap saying he was "fairly disgusted with that little heffer London Breed" for her investigation into favors he had allegedly received from former San Francisco Housing Authority chief Henry Alvarez, who was fired in 2013 (page 7). When Leland Yee aide Keith Jackson asked Brown how he could help, Brown said “[Breed] needs to shut her mouth and I think we need to have a meeting with her.” Brown has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the case.
•Local businessman Derf Butler told Keith Jackson that if Breed "digs too hard [into Alvarez], she gonna blow something up on him" (page 7). Butler has not been charged.
•Keith Jackson was recorded by the FBI speaking with London Breed about a break-in at Amos Brown's house, which went unreported. Jackson speculated that it wasn’t reported because Brown suspected the break-in was by Housing Authority workers
, and didn't want a story coming out (page
•Local NAACP vice president Rev. Arnold Townsend allegedly accepted regular cash payments from an FBI informant, saying “he would show anger for causes, but the anger was all calculated” (page .
•More details from the FBI file on an alleged bid-rigging scheme set up by Keith Jackson and Derf Butler for a multi-million dollar building contract (page 10). Butler has not been charged.
•“Butler has discussed with a CHS [Confidential Human Source] that he pays Supervisor Breed with untraceable debit cards for clothing and trips in exchange for advantages on contracts in San Francisco” (page 11). London Breed has not been charged.
•More details on campaign fundraising violations by Zula Jones and Nazly Mohajer, breaking down large illegal donations to Ed Lee’s mayoral campaign into smaller pieces and filtering them through trusted associates (page 11, page 12). Neither Jones nor Mohajer have been charged.
•Nazly Mohajer complaining in a phone call to Keith Jackson that San Francisco is extremely corrupt, and that Ed Lee is “worse than all of them,” but never comes through on his promises (page 12).
•Mayor Lee had a private meeting with an undercover FBI agent who is introduced as having made an illegal $10,000 campaign contribution. The two talk about "bringing private business interests and development into San Francisco.” Nazly Mohajer calls the undercover agent afterwards to ask if he can contribute an additional $10,000, and tells him “you can never talk to anybody about this” (page 12).
These are documents related to a 2008 FBI investigation into ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow. Document 886-1 goes into more detail.
This document is a detailed FBI rundown of the 2009 conflict between David Chiu, then chairman of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow over the Chinatown Night Market. Highlights include:
•FBI surveillance of a Chow-organized protest at City Hall (page 11).
•Chiu allegedly being threatened for refusing to pose for a photo with Chow at a dinner (page 13).
•Chinatown fixer Rose Pak accusing Chow of intimidating other community leaders (page 14).
•Chiu wearing a wire for the FBI to a meeting with Chow (page 19).
•Details of Chow's $3 million movie deal (page 25).
886-2, 886-3, 886-4, 886-5, 886-6
In these documents, Chow’s lawyers allege that district attorney Melinda Haag politicized prosecutions, including the investigation into Raymond Chow and Leland Yee and the decision not to charge Mayor Ed Lee and other Bay Area political figures. According to 886-5, a letter to U.S. Senator Charles Grassley about one of Haag’s previous cases, which several members of Congress believed was politicized, Curtis Briggs is representing Chow pro bono. 886-6 is a news article from July 29th about Haag announcing her impending resignation, for unspecified reasons.