Three former San Francisco public officials accused of taking bribes in a case stemming from the federal prosecution of an alleged Chinatown gang leader pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday after months of wrangling between prosecutors and defense attorneys.
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 $20,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent 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 Thursday 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 are 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 a previous federal investigation that resulted in the prosecution of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, former state Sen. Leland Yee and others.
Chow was convicted in January of 162 counts including murder, while Yee and Jackson pleaded guilty last year to one count of participating in a racketeering conspiracy to accept campaign contributions in exchange for political favors.
“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.