A longtime city employee with ties to Mayor Ed Lee and a Marin County businesswoman who served as a city commissioner are at the center of allegations that Lee knew about an illegal scheme to launder large campaign contributions.
Recently retired Human Rights Commission employee Zula Jones and ex-HRC commissioner Nazly Mohajer were caught on an FBI wiretap discussing how to illegally break up a $10,000 donation, according to court filings by the lawyers representing accused Chinatown mobster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.
Lee and his campaign have vigorously denied any wrongdoing since the evidence surfaced last week, but announced that tainted campaign funds would be donated to The City.
Federal authorities have not filed charges against Jones, Mohajer or any other of the new names to surface in court filings last week made by Chow’s legal team.
Jones, who was indicted in an earlier FBI corruption probe of City Hall, declined to comment to the San Francisco Examiner, and attempts to reach Mohajer were not successful.
This is a familiar story in San Francisco.
On the wiretap, Jones appears to repeat the very charges opponents of Lee and former Mayor Willie Brown have levied for years: Influence and contracts at City Hall are available for a price.
“You got to pay to play here,” Jones told the FBI, according to court filings.
Once indicted, then rewarded
During her 30 years employed with The City’s Human Rights Commission, Jones watched Lee, the commission’s former executive director from 1991 to 1995, fly up The City’s ranks after Brown was sworn in as mayor in 1995.
As Lee rose, Jones was a reliable supporter. She was also accused of fraud.
A Western Addition resident, Jones retired in January after three decades of civil service as a Human Rights Commission contract compliance officer, a post that paid over $120,000 a year, according to city records.
During a wide-ranging FBI corruption probe of Brown’s administration, Jones was indicted in 2000 on 16 counts of fraud for allegedly scheming to defraud The City’s minority contracting program.
Charges against her were dropped in 2002, and she was feted by Lee in 2010 with a career achievement award.
She would be active in the campaign to convince Lee to run for mayor the following year, and she contributed to Lee’s two mayoral campaigns in 2011 and 2015.
In 2012, with Lee’s campaign attempting to retire significant debt, Jones discussed with an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman that Lee was aware of a promised $10,000 campaign contribution, which would have to be laundered in order to skirt $500 per-donor contribution limits, according to an FBI affidavit.
“Ed is aware that you’re the one who’s a big dig [sic] donor,” Jones tells the agent.
Jones solicited the FBI agent’s information using her city email account, in apparent violation of city laws forbidding the use of city resources for political activity, according to the affidavit.
Ties to Lee, Brown
Jones told the undercover FBI agent that she and Lee are both proteges of Brown.
On the wiretap, Jones states that Lee was “pretty much trained and developed by Willie Brown and the same as myself and we were trained to get the job done. … we know we have to get the job done.”
In his column in the Chronicle on Sunday, Brown denied ever discussing campaign contributions with Jones.
But on the wiretap, Jones tells the FBI that it was Brown who taught them how to conduct business.
“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,” Jones said, according to the court filing.
Jones has not been charged with any crimes.
When approached for comment near her Western Addition home, Jones declined to speak to the San Francisco Examiner, and asked an acquaintance to call the police on an Examiner reporter.
Waiting on Lee
The first foray into San Francisco politics for Mohajer, the Iranian-born former NASA computer scientist and self-described “serial entrepreneur,” was a $250 contribution to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first mayoral campaign in 2003.
In 2005, Newsom named Mohajer, a Marin resident now in the textile business, to the Human Rights Commission, where she drew attention to human trafficking.
She served almost nine years on the commission under Newsom and then Lee. She supported both mayors.
Mohajer worked with now-Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to organize a Persian New Year celebration at City Hall. She contributed to the then-supervisor’s re-election bid.
In 2011, Mohajer contributed $500 to then-interim Mayor Ed Lee’s election campaign, according to records. Listed also is a $500 contribution from a Hassan Mohajer. His relation to Nazly could not immediately be verified.
In 2012, with Ed Lee’s mayoral campaign needing to retire almost $300,000 in campaign debt, Nazly Mohajer spoke with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Georgia businessman about laundering a $10,000 donation into legal $500 contributions.
Under the name Michael King, the FBI agent also wrote the Lee campaign a $500 check, according to records.
After the donation, Mohajer orchestrated a meeting between the agent and the mayor at her office at 945 Front St. to discuss doing business in The City, according to an FBI affidavit.
Lee has said that he cannot remember any such meeting.
This year, the Ethics Commission forwarded a complaint about Mohajer’s activities to the District Attorney’s Office.
Ties to Yee scandal; complaints that Lee did not deliver
The wiretap also caught Mohajer discussing with Keith Jackson — the political consultant and former school board member who, with former state Sen. Leland Yee, pleaded guilty last month to racketeering — how Lee had failed to reward their efforts with the expected favors.
“Mohajer asked if Lee came through for Jackson, and Jackson responded, ‘No, he ain’t come through for nobody, shit. I know if he ain’t come through for you, he ain’t going to do shit for me,’” an unidentified FBI agent wrote in the affidavit.
Mohajer later tells Jackson that she finds San Francisco politicians corrupt, and that Lee is “worse than all of them.”
She added that if “Lee decides to run again and asks Mohajer to help raise money, she is going to make her demands up front,” according to the affidavit.
On March 1, 2012, Lee reappointed her to the commission despite her referral to the state Fair Political Practices Commission the year prior for repeatedly failing to file necessary income forms.
Mohajer has not contributed to Lee’s re-election effort this year, according to campaign finance records.
Attempts to reach Mohajer at listings for her business and her
residences in Marin were not successful.
Before newly released details from FBI wiretaps implicated them in campaign finance impropriety, city employee Zula Jones and city commissioner Nazly Mohajer were associates of several mayors, beginning with Willie Brown.
1991: Ed Lee is Zula Jones’ executive director at the Human Rights Commission.
1996: Newly elected mayor, Brown promotes Lee to director of City Purchasing.
1999: Brown administration investigated by FBI. A grand jury subpoenas HRC records, which Jones is discovered shredding.
2000: Jones is indicted on 16 counts of fraud; Lee is appointed director of the Department of Public Works.
2002: Charges against Jones are dropped after other defendants plead guilty.
2003: Nazly Mohajer contributes to Gavin Newsom’s first campaign for mayor.
2005: Mohajer appointed to city’s Human Rights Commission.
2005: Lee is appointed to the office of City Administrator.
2010: Lee names Jones “Community Advocate of the Year” and states “it’s about time” Jones was feted.
2011: Mohajer and a family member donate $1,000 to Ed Lee
2011: Lee is elected, but has significant campaign debt.
2012: Jones caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a $10,000 payment from an undercover FBI agent.
2012: Mohajer facilitates meeting between Lee and an undercover FBI agent, who is introduced to the mayor as a big campaign donor.
2014: State Sen. Leland Yee and Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow among dozens arrested and charged with crimes including bribery, money laundering and murder-for-hire.
June 2015: Jones receives career achievement award from S.F. African American Chamber of Commerce.
July 2015: Yee and political consultant Keith Jackson plead guilty.
August 2015: Jones’ name resurfaces in documents filed by Chow’s attorneys.
November 2015: Chow scheduled to go on trial.