Two allegations of donors laundering campaign contributions that went to Mayor Ed Lee bear stark similarities.
The most recent case involves a rental property firm and its director. They were fined $40,000 by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission last week, the maximum penalty allowed, for laundering a combined $4,000 into both Lee's and Phil Ting's 2011 mayoral campaigns.
That fine against Archway Property Services LLC and its director, Andrew Hawkins Cohen, come on the heels of a recent lawsuit alleging Lee's campaign accepted $20,000 from an FBI agent, a case that is ongoing.
“These people lied to the campaign, perjured themselves, and the mayor is pleased that they are being held accountable,” mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey told The San Francisco Examiner. “He has called for full accountability since this issue came to light.”
San Francisco Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code caps donations to politicians at $500 per person or entity, but Hawkins Cohen wanted to donate a combined $4,000 to both Lee and Ting.
In its decision to fine Hawkins Cohen, the FPPC said the property director ordered six of his contractors to pay Lee's election campaign seven donations of $500 under their own names and one $500 donation to Ting. Hawkins Cohen then reimbursed the contractors with funds from Archway.
An employee of Archway brought the scheme to light, though the anonymous whistleblower was later fired. The whistleblower's attorney, Nanci Clarence, declined to comment for this story.
Similar to the FPPC's findings, a recent lawsuit brought by Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow's attorney Cory Briggs alleges Mayor Ed Lee's campaign took $20,000 from an undercover FBI agent, who was previously identified only as UCE-4773.
“Just because there’s a bunch of scumbags violating donation rules doesn’t mean the politicians receiving those donations know the rule is being violated,” Briggs said. “You’ve got to have more. No one is offering evidence that Ed Lee knew.”
Chow is a defendant in a federal case involving corruption and organized crime in which suspended state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, is also accused.
A motion filed by the federal government against Yee details a deal between “Individuals A and B to make donations to the elected official in excess of the lawful limit.” The individuals and politician were not named, but “each spoke plainly about the fact that they would have to break up UCE-4773's donations among straw donors. UCE-4773 initially made a $10,000 donation in the form of a check made payable to Individual B and a $500 donation in the form of a check made payable to the elected official's campaign.”
In the lawsuit, Chow alleges UCE-4773 is FBI agent Michael Anthony King, and that Lee accepted King's money and knowingly laundered the donations. An individual named Michael A. King does have a registered $500 donation with Lee's 2011 mayoral campaign.
The Mayor's Office is seeking to verify whether King was indeed an FBI agent, which has not been confirmed.
The FPPC fine stemmed from extensive interviews with employees of Archway who made numerous accusations that were only made public last week.
On Sept. 11, 2013, FPPC investigator Beatrice Moore interviewed Grace Sisperez, a former Archway employee and property manager for an apartment building the company owns on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco.
Sisperez arrived at the meeting in a café wearing twin dog tags with her name printed on both. When an investigator asked if perhaps the $500 reimbursements by Archway to its employees were simply bonuses, she laughed.
“Sisperez stated she was given a list of Archway employees who contributed and wrote checks to each person in the amount of $500,” the FPPC wrote in its findings. “If the check was not written out yet, she wrote the check and handed it directly to the employee.”
Additionally, Archway employees allegedly were asked to become involved in Lee's campaign.
“Burrows and Hawkins also asked Archway employees to volunteer for Ed Lee's campaign by going door to door, handing out flyers and hanging door hangers,” the FPPC wrote. “No money was involved for volunteering. Sisperez does not recall any Phil Ting contributions or volunteering for the campaign.”
But others the FPPC interviewed said the investigation was only scratching the surface. Peter Comaroto, an independent contractor working for real estate mogul Yat-Pang Au, said the Archway donations were part of a grand plan.
Comaroto appeared to be nervous, the investigator wrote, and stated he had to leave as soon as he arrived.
“You are looking at the wrong person,” Comaroto told the investigator. “The person you need to look at is Yat-Pang Au of Veritas Company. Pang has connections to the Chinese community and owns land in San Francisco worth billions of dollars. Pang also owns apartment buildings and Archway does work for him.”
“He was certain,” the investigator wrote, that “Yat-Pang Au was the person behind the reimbursements.”
The Examiner was unable to reach Au for comment.
After some alleged Lee's campaign laundered money, District Attorney George Gascón declined to pursue criminal charges, citing a lack of evidence. Gascón's office gave its findings to the FPPC.