A retired city employee and a former city commissioner who are at the center of bribery allegations involving Mayor Ed Lee were charged with multiple felonies including bribery and money laundering, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Also charged Friday was political consultant and former San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education President Keith Jackson, who pleaded guilty last year to racketeering charges.
The district attorney’s office charged recently retired Human Rights Commission employee Zula Jones, ex-HRC commissioner Nazly Mohajer and former political consultant Keith Jackson, said Gascon, who was joined by City Attorney Dennis Herrera and FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson at the news conference.
Jones, Mohajer and Jackson have each been charged with four counts of bribery and one count of money laundering, while Jackson was also charged with one count of grand theft of public money and six misdemeanor counts of campaign fraud.
“Public corruption is a crime against all of us,” Gascon said. “When government is for sale we all suffer.”
Friday’s announcement comes a day after the San Francisco Examiner revealed emails showing Jones and Mohajer arranged $1,500 in campaign contributions to Mayor Ed Lee with an employee of a lumber company that later received a city contract, suggesting a pay-to-play culture in San Francisco politics.
Jackson, Jones and Mohajer allegedly accepted $20,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for political promises and preferential treatment in connection with city contracts, according to Gascon.
In announcing the felony bribery and money laundering charges against the three, Gascon said. “These crimes initially surfaced as a result of a lengthy federal investigation and authorities agree that this matter should be handled by local prosecutors.”
Gascon announced the charges but declined to offer additional details as to the specifics backing up the charges. “Unfortunately, we cannot get into the details. There is a federal protective order concerning this investigation and that is also part of the state case. Therefore, we are limited as to what we can say to you.”
— Jonah Owen Lamb (@jonahowenlamb) January 22, 2016
Above, a short video clip from the San Francisco Examiner of DA George Gascon at the press conference where the charges against recently retired Human Rights Commission employee Zula Jones, ex-HRC commissioner Nazly Mohajer and former political consultant Keith Jackson.
He stopped short of directly connecting the charges to evidence which was released in the government’s case against Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, which ended in a guilty conviction Jan. 8.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the charges were the result of joint investigations involving his office and the District Attorney’s Office.
“This type of criminal activity erodes public confidence, undermines the strength of our democracy and if left unchecked threatens our government,” said FBI Special Agent In Charge David Johnson. “There is no level of acceptable corruption.”
He added, “We at the FBI are grateful for our partners who are here today, who have pursued this case and will continue to pursue it to its logical conclusion.”
Gascon said the investigation remains ongoing and could result in others being charged. “This particular case will proceed. The investigation continues. And it will take us wherever the facts take us.”
Meanwhile, the mayor’s office distanced itself from the charges. “Mayor Lee is deeply disturbed by the alleged criminal activities of Mr. Jackson, Ms. Jones and Ms. Mohajer and strongly condemns them. There is absolutely no place in San Francisco for this corruption, especially in City government, and Mayor Lee urges the District Attorney and City Attorney to pursue these charges to the fullest extent,” said Lee spokesperson Christine Falvey.
Separately, Jackson, a former San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education commissioner, is accused of promising a mother in 2012 that he could place her child in a certain public school in exchange for money.
Reacting to the charges, Curtis Briggs, an attorney representing Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, said, “Just like the joke about a busload of lawyers going over a cliff, the indictment of Jones and Mohajar is a good start but they have not finished the job. The San Francisco public still suffers at the hands of corrupt leaders. These were the fall guys. This is just an extension of the corruption.”
Last summer, the Examiner also revealed that city officials were investigating Mohajer for allegedly facilitating illegal campaign contributions for the mayor, according to court documents connected with the federal case against Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. The issue of Mohajer arranging campaign money laundering was mentioned numerous times in court documents by Chow’s attorneys Tony Serra, Curtis Briggs and Greg Bentley.
An email obtained by the Examiner also showed Jones communicated with the same undercover FBI agent — calling himself Michael King — who she allegedly plotted with to launder donations to Lee.
When the Examiner first contacted Jones outside of her home in August about the allegations, she declined to comment and told an acquaintance to call the police.
The case that previously ensnared Jackson also netted former state Sen. Leland Yee and Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, who earlier this month was convicted of ordering the death of two rivals and for his alleged leadership of a Chinatown-based criminal gang.
Each defendant faces more than seven years in prison in connection with the charges.