Political bribery case at a standstill over release of evidence

A San Francisco Superior Court judge said Wednesday he will interview an FBI agent who investigated federal corruption in The City while deciding whether to seal the evidence that led to bribery charges against a trio of political players.

Former school board President Keith Jackson, former Human Rights Commissioner Nazly Mohajer and ex-commission staffer Zula Jones were charged with bribery and money laundering in January for allegedly accepting $20,000 in bribes in exchange for political favors.

The evidence used to charge them was obtained — and placed under a federal protective order — during the racketeering investigation into Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a Chinatown gangster who was arrested in 2014 alongside former Sen. Leland Yee, Jackson and others.

The prosecution has made continuous efforts to keep that evidence under seal in the state case against Jackson, Mohajer and Jones, despite pleas by their defense attorneys to gain access to the evidence.

“She’s charged with bribery,” Attorney John Keker said in court Wednesday of his client, Jones. “We don’t know who she’s supposed to have bribed.”

On March 30, defense attorneys filed a motion to compel discovery from the prosecution, which San Francisco Superior Court Judge Edward Torpoco has yet to make a decision on.

Torpoco on Feb. 29 temporarily denied the prosecution’s first attempt at sealing the evidence through a protective order until U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer authorized the release of the federal investigative materials, which he did last month.

Then last Friday, with the federal protective order lifted, prosecutors again asked for Torpoco to consider their arguments for sealing the evidence to the public. That includes contemplating the sworn statement of FBI Special Agent Ethan Quinn, who was part of the Chow investigation.

Quinn said in the declaration that the evidence, if publicized, could expose the identities of undercover agents, people currently under investigation but not yet charged, as well as harm the reputations of innocent people and put witnesses at risk.

Torpoco is set to have an in-camera interview with Quinn later this month to help him consider the protective order. Whether the defense will be allowed at the interview is under dispute.

“These things that Ethan Quinn might inform the court, might be the kinds of things that would be redacted,” Assistant District Attorney Kelly Burke said.

If no protective order is in place and the transcript of the interview is released, prosecutors would have to “undergo a massive redaction program,” Burke told the judge.

Torpoco did not decide when he would rule on the protective order, but noted that the defense wanted to hold off on entering pleas at an arraignment pending the disclosure of the evidence.

Jackson, Mohajer and Jones are set to be arraigned May 24 at 9 a.m.

Michael Barba

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