Lee backers off hook in election booth bungle

S.F. Examiner File PhotoNo thanks: Mayor Ed Lee’s election campaign returned suspect donations last year.

A phony voting booth that was set up last October in Chinatown to help elderly voters cast their mail-in ballots won’t spur any criminal charges, the District Attorney’s Office announced on Thursday.

The booth — set up by supporters of then-candidate Mayor Ed Lee — was a lightning rod for his many opponents, who called for a full investigation of the operation. The alleged malfeasance included accusations that a bevy of blue-shirted campaign workers supplied voters with plastic stencils that could be placed over ballots to single out specific candidates and issues.

The booth was set up by an independent expenditure committee, which are generally required by law to remain separate from a candidate’s official campaign. The so-called SF Neighbor Alliance was accused by combatants in last year’s contentious mayor’s race of being in collusion with Lee himself. But the mayor called the group’s behavior “moronic” and pleaded with them to “cease and desist.”

Stephanie Ong Stillman, a spokeswoman for District Attorney George Gascón, said an investigation didn’t turn up enough evidence to warrant charges.

“Although we determined there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution in this matter, the District Attorney is concerned about these allegations and, indeed, any allegations of voter fraud,” Stillman said in a statement.

Meanwhile, more campaign-related malfeasance is set to get a preliminary court hearing today. The Bay Citizen first reported last year about allegations that managers of Go Lorries, an airport shuttle company, skirted election finance rules by pressuring 23 workers to make the maximum $500 donation to Lee’s campaign with the promise that they would be paid back later. The shuttle company had recently benefited from a curbside pickup policy approved by The City.

The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission settled with Go Lorries in March for nearly $50,000, but the company and two of its managers now face criminal charges. General Manager Jason Perez, 40, of San Mateo, and Chief Financial Officer Hunan Qutami, 56, of South San Francisco, face accusations of donating $11,500 in illegal campaign contributions.

San Francisco real estate manager Andrew Hawkins was accused just days before the election of similar illegal donation practices after he emailed associates demanding that they each give Lee’s campaign $500, saying they would be promptly reimbursed. But the District Attorney’s Office said Thursday that the case will not yield criminal charges.

“There was insufficient evidence to support criminal charges,” Stillman said, declining to provide further details.

Upon learning of both donation problems last year, the Lee campaign promptly returned the money to contributors.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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