A federal judge Thursday sentenced Philip Lum Jr., the second- longest-serving Colma Town Council member in history, to 18 months in federal prison for accepting gifts from Lucky Chances Casino while voting on issues beneficial to the casino.
During the sentencing, Lum, who was accompanied by friends and family to the courtroom, apologized to his family and the public for the ordeal but required some questioning from United States District Court Judge Jeffrey White before saying he purposely did not disclose the gifts.
“It’s just something that happened. There’s no explanation,” Lum said at first. “I failed to disclose it. I knowingly failed to disclose it. I hid it from the public,” he said later in the courtroom.
After more questioning from Judge White, Lum admitted he did not report the gifts because he thought people would believe they influenced his votes on the council.
Handed down in October 2006, the federal indictment alleges that between 1999-2002, Lum took several trips to the Philippines with plane tickets bought by Lucky Chances owner Rene Medina. Lum failed to report the gifts to the Fair Political Practices Commission in his annual filing.
During this time, Lum and the full town council approved a use permit and card room application in June 2000 for the casino to continue operations, and in October 2002 approved an ordinance allowing casino employees to gamble at Lucky Chances, the indictment alleged.
In failing to report the tickets, Lum committed mail fraud and denied his constituents honest services, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In February of this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office similarly charged council member Ronald Maldonado.
Judge White handed down his decision with some stiff words for Lum and fellow politicians, calling the charges against Lum a “very serious matter” and saying politicians need to beware.
“If they do these things they’re not going to get away with them, and they’re going to go to jail,” White said.
Outside the courtroom, Lum’s attorney George Walker maintained that it was a technical violation and that what Lum said to White inside the courtroom was “what the judge wanted him to say” in order to avoid a stiffer sentence.
Lum served on Colma’s Town Council for 20 years, including five terms as mayor. Lum lost his reelection bid last November by only 10 votes despite having been indicted just a month prior to Election Day.
Lucky Chances changes hands
Ownership of Lucky Chances casino is in the final stages of being transferred from Rene Medina to his sons, amid Medina’s ongoing legal problems.
On Wednesday night — just a day before former Colma Town Council member Philip Lum Jr., was to be sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges related to accepting plane tickets to the Phillipines from Medina — the Colma Town Council approved the transfer in a 4-0 vote.
Council member Helen Fisicaro abstained from discussion and the vote because her husband had done some landscaping work at the casino.
In a case unrelated to Lum’s case, Medina was arrested in March 2006 with his niece, Phyllis Reyes Cuison, and nephew, Rawlin Reyes, on federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges for allegedly not paying nearly $1 million in federal taxes.
Mayor Frossanna Vallerga said that while many think the ownership transfer is being done because of Medina’s court case, the process of transferring the casino over to his sons, Rommel and Ruell Medina, was started before any of those issues arose.
“That’s somewhat separate, I believe. That’s [Medina’s] own personal problem with the IRS,” Vallerga said.
Revenue from the casino is a huge contributor to the town’s operations, providing nearly 20 percent of the city’s budget.
Tiffany Rystrom, an attorney with Carroll, Burdick and McDonough, LLC, which provides outside counsel to Lucky Chances, said the transfer of ownership was “part of a long-term business plan, and estate planning as well.” The first subpoena for the investigation of Medina was handed out in March 2004, while the transferal process has been under way since 2002, she added.
The two sides now have 15 days to close the deal before ownership is officially transferred to Medina’s sons. “They are experienced with the business and capable of running the business,” Rystrom said of Rommel and Ruell Medina.