No pleas entered in political corruption case; gag order still up in the air

No pleas were entered Monday morning in a corruption case against three San Francisco political operatives, and a request for a protective order by the District Attorney’s Office was forwarded to federal court.

Former Human Rights Commissioner Nazly Mohajer, former commission staffer Zula Jones and former school board member Keith Jackson were all charged with bribery in January in San Francisco Superior Court. The charges stem from donations allegedly solicited through bribes meant to help retire Mayor Ed Lee’s 2011 campaign debt.

A protective order requested by the prosecution has delayed the case. The three defendants, all of whom appeared in court Monday, are expected to enter pleas in early April, once a judge has issued a ruling on the protective order.

The prosecution argues the case should remain sealed from the public because documents that are central to the case, which the prosecution received from federal attorneys, were already under a federal protective order to protect the identity of an undercover FBI agent, among other reasons.

Defense lawyers, however, have contended in filings — and reiterated in court — that the protective order would prejudice their ability to defend their clients.

“We are fettered in our ability to investigate the case,” said John Keker, who represents Jones.

Keker said the protective order only allows the defendants to review documents in the presence of their lawyers and requires the signature of anyone who might be asked questions about the more than 100,000 pages of evidence.

The case files in question center around an undercover FBI agent, who took part in the investigation that resulted in the arrest, trial and conviction of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow and former state Sen. Leland Yee, among others.

Specifically, the case files include transcripts of wiretap recordings made by FBI agent 4773, known as Michael King. The agent was undercover as a real estate investor and allegedly caught Jones, Jackson and Mohajer on the wiretap taking bribes in the form of campaign contributions over the legal limit.

Lee has not been charged with any crimes related to the case and denies any wrongdoing.

Keker argued that the central player in the case — King — has already been identified publicly on his own LinkedIn page, as well as in the media. What’s more, Keker said King was taken off the case for alleged financial impropriety and has since retired from the FBI.

These assertions, Keker said, call into question the prosecution’s arguments that the protective order is needed to protect the identity of undercover FBI agents.

“We now know that the central part of these case documents were [King],” Keker said. “He was fired. … He is not somebody who is hiding his identity.”

Keker said his office has found King’s LinkedIn page, where the former FBI agent’s real name is listed along with his undercover name. The page, Keker said in court, also includes a breakdown of the duties King performed for law enforcement.

But none of this struck Judge Edward Torpoco as relevant to the protective order request, which Torpoco denied until the matter has been heard by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer.

Because Breyer issued the initial protective order, the district court judge must assure the state court that any new order does not contradict the original. Still, Torpoco said he was inclined to rule in favor of the protective order and encouraged the prosecution to refile the request after Breyer has heard the matter.


Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

briberycorruptionCrimeGeorge GasconJeff AdachiKeith JacksonMayor Ed LeeNazly MohajerSF District AttorneySFPDZula Jones

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