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News + PoliticsEd Lee and the FBI corruption charges

Ed Lee and the FBI corruption charges

Raymond Chow’s lawyers haven’t proven that the mayor is involved in anything illegal. But damn, this doesn’t look good

You'd think Mayor Lee would at least address the allegations, but nothing so far
You’d think Mayor Lee would at least address the allegations, but nothing so far

By Tim Redmond

AUGUST 4, 2015 – I was pretty sure what the lawyers for Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow were going to do as part of their defense: They were going to argue that Chow was just a small player in a much-larger corruption scheme, and seek to prove that the feds ignored the actions of a lot of other prominent San Franciscans while selectively focusing on him.

They released the first salvo today, filing a motion in court to dismiss all the charges on the grounds of selective prosecution. The Examiner broke the story (and isn’t it sad that all hell has broken loose at that paper and its SF Weekly cousin, when this city clearly needs real reporters who dig into documents?)

The Chron has pretty much dismissed the allegations against the mayor, and I agree that there is nothing specific in the FBI documents attached to the filing to prove that Lee did anything wrong.

(The Examiner uploaded the motion from Chow’s lawyers but not the attachments; KQED has uploaded them all here.)

But the whole filing paints a sad, sordid picture of San Francisco politics and suggests once again that the legacy of Willie Brown and Ed Lee is one where underlings are taught to do what’s necessary to bring in the money for campaigns and to build political power – and the public interest isn’t really a factor.

The worst, I think, is the FBI filing that quotes Zula Jones, who was once indicted for rigging contracts (the charges were later dropped) discussing how things really work in the city:

“We pay to play here. We got this. … [Lee] is a moderate business focus mayor. He was pretty much trained and developed by Willie Brown, the same as myself and we were trained to get the job done.”


The documents show that the mayor met with Jones and Keith Jackson (and why on Earth was he doing that?) and a couple of undercover FBI agents, at 945 Front Street (again: why?) and there was discussion of campaign money.


The legal filing alleges that the “FBI alleged in discovery that Ed Lee took substantial bribes in exchange for favors,” but the discussion is mostly about donations to retire his campaign debt. The undercover agent allegedly raised $10,000 for Lee; the donation limit in San Francisco is $500.

The mayor , according to the FBI documents, discussed business development.

That’s not illegal. But it’s a bit unseemly for the mayor of San Francisco to be hanging out with some of the more sleazy characters in the city’s political underbelly.


The FBI files show that then-Sup David Chiu wore a wire provided by the feds when he met with Chow, making him part of the undercover team that collected evidence leading to the indictment.


And then there’s Sup. London Breed.

From the Ex:

In Breed’s case, according to the filing, Derf Butler, a politically connected businessman who the documents say worked with Jackson for Yee, told an FBI source that he “pays Supervisor Breed with untraceable debit cards for clothing and trips in exchange for advantages on contracts in San Francisco.”

Breed completely denies that. In a statement she released today, she says:

I learned long ago that you can’t control what other people say about you.  And that’s especially true when you serve in public office.

The files do show that Rev. Amos Brown, a former supervisor, at one point tried to get Breed to back off from her investigation into the actions of Henry Alvarez, who was later fired as head of the Housing Authority.


Jackson’ phone was being tapped, apparently, and at one point Brown called him to say he was “fairly disgusted with that little heffer (sic) London Breed.” Alvarez,  the documents allege, was sending Housing Authority maintenance workers to do repairs on Brown’s house.

Jackson said Breed needed “to let this shit go …. You gonna fucking hurt Reverend Brown, we need him.”

Jackson spoke to Breed and told her how important Brown was to the African American community. Breed said only that “I got you, Keith.”

Breed and her office have not yet returned my calls.

There is more, much more: The FBI met with Sululagi Palega, also known as “the Chief,” who “was very cautious about conducting any type of illegal business because he had personal relationships with Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr.” Palega, who allegedly was driving a city car, later gave the undercover FBI agent a handgun in a See’s candy bag.

It goes on.

The overall picture is not pretty. The FBI crawling all over City Hall, the mayor associating with people who turned out to be part of a serious crime ring, the assumptions among many of the targets of the investigation that they can just get money for local pols and then get what they want … The Lee Administration hardly comes off looking clean.

There are, indeed, out-of-control prosecutors who go on witch hunts. We have seen that again and again. The US attorney who oversaw all of this, Melinda Haag, was hardly a crusading progressive. And as Breed has noted, many of the targets seem to be African Americans.

But please: No comment out of the Mayor’s Office? No attempt to say that some of the people he’s been associating with were, in retrospect, not exactly the type you would hope an honest mayor would be involved with?

Lee ran for office in part because Willie Brown and Rose Pak told him that if he didn’t run, Leland Yee might be elected. (Ridiculous; Yee came in at the back of the pack. Without Lee, Dennis Herrera and John Avalos were the top contenders.)

So if the mayor had concerns about Yee, why was he hanging out with Yee’s associates? Why, other than an insatiable need for campaign cash, was he even talking to Keith Jackson and Zula Jones?

Haven’t we had enough of this climate of corruption?

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. I think you need to look more broadly, and expand your question to all of America. We nominally have two parties, but on the economic (and foreign policy) issues that matter, there’s little air between them. It’s essentially one corporatist party, and that’s a recipe for institutionalized corruption which in reality is a lot worse than anything you can find in the third world.

    San Francisco, for a while at least, actually had more diversity of opinion in the halls of power than America. Before the progressive implosion, it looked as if an alternative viewpoint could possibly gain a foothold. It didn’t matter if they all called themselves Democrats. On the issues that mattered, people like Chris Daly and Tom Ammiano are much more different from people like Willie Brown and Dianne Fineswine than say, Harry Reid is from Mitch McConnell. We actually had a *real* two-party system in San Francisco, unlike in the United States. And unlike now in San Francisco, where the corporatists dominate to the extent that they’re drunk with power.

    How do you break that? Well, strict campaign spending limits would go a long way. The nuts and bolts of it are frankly not that important, as long as the end result is that nobody gets to dominate the political discourse. Media reform is also crucial, and it’s a part of the same theme. The discourse in the media is overwhelmingly corporatist. You need to have regulations in place that forbid the media from being concentrated into a few hands. Only then can you have a real diversity of opinion, and only then can you have democracy.

  2. Greg, given that you agree that a one-party Democrat rule of this city is a recipe for corruption, what are your best three ideas for creating a real opposition to Democrat corruption?

  3. No, I sometimes swap names to shake off stalkers like you, who duck the issues quickly but endlessly make personal attacks.

  4. Parrots repeat what they hear. Those who work at an Argument Clinic mindlessly gainsay. Scotsmen lose tennis matches to Blancmanges.

  5. I might be but you haven’t demonstrated that. You just gainsay everything I say like a demented parrot.

  6. I have never admitted how long my lets are for. I did admit allowing you to believe whatever you wanted to believe without correcting you.

    You’re the one squirming. I sleep well at night.

  7. Of course, and your ‘civil disobedience’ is just more of your lies, right? Sorry, but you have admitted that. Stand up for your beliefs, man. Even if it makes you squirm.

  8. So you claim there is evidence because you read somewhere that there might be evidence for that evidence?

  9. So you agree with me that there is no effective opposition in this town, leaving it ripe for corruption whether real or, as in this case, imagined?

  10. In a one party town, everyone is a Democrat, conservatives and liberals. That is why you are down on your knees fellating Ed Lee on a daily basis.

  11. There is evidence that the FBI has evidence and that there are ongoing investigations into Ed Lee’s corruption.

  12. I think foghorn has a point. If Leland Yee is guilty, then here’s smoking gun evidence that Sharmin Bock, who ran for DA, did the exact same thing:


    The whole City Family is one big cesspool of corruption, and all they could come up with is a termed-out state senator who was likely to retire from politics after that election cycle? It all smells fishy, including the prosecution. Especially the prosecution.

  13. Nationally voters are conservative. Locally they are liberal which is why the city has a liberal one-party government, which is why there is corruption. I never said SF voters are conservative. I have said they are mostly moderate rather than progressive.

    The fact that you are so left-wing that you think our mayor is a Republican doesn’t change that. Ed Lee would be considered a socialist in any normal town.

  14. You yourself proclaim to anyone who will listen that voters support conservative values, that they vote for candidates who support jobs and expensive condos and are willing to abandon regulation. I guess you were wrong. I guess that you are wrong now.

  15. Look, Tim managed to get the words ‘FBI’, ‘Ed Lee’ and ‘corruption charges’ into the headline.And no mention of Shrimp Boy. Kudos to him.

    But go to google news and look at the headlines written by legitimate journalists. There are a lot of articles but, almost without exception, the real journalists made it clear that they are taking about allegations made by Shrimp Boy’s defense team.

    And as for Lee meeting with potential donors and people who want to invest in the city…that happens to be his job. Hillary Clinton is in town to do exactly the same thing tonight. You notice that there are no details about the FBI plant asking for favors and Lee’s response. It’s also incongruous that he would offer some favors to someone that he didn’t know for $20K.

    Also, Lee’s campaign has been successfully audited by Ethics. Avalos, not so much. But he’s a Progressive so we don’t care.

  16. Corrupt pro-corporate sleazebags are not necessarily “liberals.”

    Many conservatives are corrupt pro-corporate sleazebags.

  17. I don’t know the answer to that question $am, and neither do you. I’m saying that for Lee to be introduced to a man who he is told can help him retire campaign debts and to proceed to discuss SF business opportunities with this man is sleazy. I’ve made this point several times now and you are either too dense or too obtuse to get it. I won’t reply to you again.

  18. Lee should be indicted and all appointees/cronies of Willie, Gruesome and Lee should be fired. Clean up City Hall!

  19. They could but, as you note, that would hardly be a legitimate opposition. The liberals have a stranglehold on this city and corruption is inevitable given that. Even the politicians that Redmond is trying to go after here are liberal people of color. But in Tim’s mind they are still evil unless they drink the progressive kool-aid

  20. The Greens & other disaffected Dems should form their own SF-Progressive Party. Oh wait, Chris Daly tried that and nobody showed up to his Progressive Primary.

  21. So you admit that Lee said or did nothing in response to this alleged offer of illegality? That is Tim’s position but I just want readers to be sure that it is yours as well.

  22. The headline is blatantly skewed such that a casual read of it indicates a connection that the evidence does not point to.

    Journalism involves dealing with the facts in an objective manner and not just trying to throw unfounded dirt at those whom you personally disagree with.

  23. I answered this question below $am, but you apparently were too dense to understand it so I’ll try again.

    As for a quid pro quo, I wasn’t there and (presumably) neither were you, so neither of us can know whether it exists and if so, what it was.

    I say that for Ed Lee to merely sit in on a conversation about business opportunities in SF with an undercover agent who he had just been told could retire his campaign debt is pretty sleazy. An honest politician would have walked away from this one, but as was noted in other segments of the filing, “pay for play” is the rule in SF.

    Your tinfoil hat and unmitigated love for Ed Lee is distorting your perceptions $am.

  24. No $am, you’re the one in the tinfoil hat. Nothing in that headline accuses Ed Lee of corruption, even if your tinfoil filter leads you to believe it. You obviously know nothing about journalism. Or ethics in politics, for that matter.

  25. People talk to each other all the time. Where is the smoking gun evidence that Lee took dirty money and that it changed public policy?

  26. So, again, you respond to me while simultaneously claiming that my posts are not worthy of a response

  27. No, the title is prejudicial. It invites the reader to believe that the Feds have evidence that our mayor is corrupt when in fact even Tinfoil Tim admits that there is no such evidence.

    Blatant bias and irresponsible journalism.

  28. Who do you think the “legitimate” opposition to a liberal one-party government should be? A splinter liberal group? A faction that is even more socialist?

  29. Headline is perfectly fair. It does not assert corruption charges against Ed Lee, but fairly observes that Ed Lee’s name came up in connection with corruption charges. I don’t think anyone would dispute that.

    As for a quid pro quo, I wasn’t there and (presumably) neither were you, so neither of us can know whether it exists and if so, what it was.

    I say that for Ed Lee to merely sit in on a conversation about business opportunities in SF with an undercover agent who he had just been told could retire his campaign debt is pretty sleazy. An honest politician would have walked away from this one, but as was noted in other segments of the filing, “pay for play” is the rule in SF. Ugh. No wonder this city is such a mess.

  30. I am sure that you’d prefer that the conservative Democrats have legitimate political opposition from conservative Republicans.

  31. Yes. Using the headline “Ed Lee and the FBI corruption charges” is bending over backwards to be fair to Ed Lee.

    Of course, there are no FBI corruption charges against Ed Lee, but lets ignore that little detail. It sounds really damming against Ed Lee so lets go with it anyway. Sticking to the truth is for losers.

    Hey, if you are so sure that Ed Lee did something wrong then why don’t you tell us what he improperly offered to do for the guy who said that he could retire his campaign debt. Thanks.

    Tim Redmond is a perfectly fair and honest writer, and the Progressive movement is doing just great. Have a nice day, wherever you may be.

  32. Actually, Tim bent over backwards to be fair to Lee. If this story were run in a New York tabloid, Lee would have been convicted and three steps away from a jail cell by now.

  33. The Chronicle quote you use, and I haven’t verified it, is a matter of opinion $am. What about the April 6, 2012 meeting at 945 Front St. detailed above? In this meeting, according to the filing, Mojaher introduced an undercover agent to Lee as an individual who could retire Lee’s campaign debt. This was followed by a discussion about bringing private business interests and development to SF.

    It may be that the U.S. Attorney didn’t figure what happened there was strong enough to prosecute, but it certainly raises questions about Lee as an ethical player in SF politics (a pretty low bar). This combined with other publicized incidents — strong arming lobbyists and developers by threatening to withhold city favors if they fail to support Christensen and threatening UCSF with higher fees and assessments if it doesn’t play ball on the Warriors stadium plan — makes me wonder about what else we don’t know. Given that the city is awash in developer money, it could be considerable.

  34. The problem is the “Feds” come in the form of: Nancy Pelosi, Senator Feinstein, and various other Dems in the Obama administration. I don’t really see a dispassionate voice of reason in all this

  35. It’s all fairly transparent that Tim doesn’t care about objectivity. He is a liar by omission since he will only cover stories that he believes are negative for his opponents and simply ignores any that could potentially hurt “progressives”.

    48 Hills is propaganda. Although Tim Redmond and folks like Larry Bush put up a front of wanting transparency, they really are only interested if it applies to their opponents.

    Could you imagine if Ed Lee couldn’t account for half of his expenditures like Avalos? Redmond and Bush would be raising hell and calling for Federal investigations. Where is Bush decrying Avalos’ blatant disregard for San Francisco’s disclosure laws. Also, despite promising to release the entire poll and source of funding for the Friends of Ethics poll, he has still not done so.

  36. I don’t even like Lee, and I can see that you obviously could never trust Tim to fairly and accurately report material like this. He’s the Fred Barnes of the local progressive movement.

  37. Whatever and whenever is needed to throw stalkers off the scent. People here should focus on the message and not the messenger.

  38. If your point is that a one-party government (such as SF has) is a part of the problem, then I’d agree.

    There is no effective opposition in this city.

  39. It is exactly that. I allowed you to assume that my short-term lets were under 30 days because it amused me to see your over-reaction. But in fact I never stated or admitted that.

  40. “And in any event you do not know long long my rentals are for. Durations over 30 days are not subject to the laws and taxes you cite.”

    Great refutation!

  41. Progressives like me have a long and proud history of using civil disobedience to oppose punitive laws.

    And in any event you do not know long long my rentals are for. Durations over 30 days are not subject to the laws and taxes you cite.

    But it is noted that you cannot refute my comments on this topic and therefore seek to deflect.

  42. Isn’t there a way for the population of the City to request an audit of the City’s monies and spending from the Feds? This is ridiculous! I know each and every one of us can request a Sunshine audit of City emails and computers…if we made enough noise, the Feds would have to quit jerking it long enough to settle the people down…they want to avoid a big fuss more than they want to avoid corruption.

  43. No, my singular obsession isn’t AirBnB. It is hypocrisy and you’re a hypocrite who doesn’t pay his fair share, forcing others to pay more.

    And stop with the ‘civil disobedience’ nonsense. What you are doing is motivated by greed and avarice, PERIOD.

  44. The Chronicle reports that “While it appears others may have tried to engage or ensnare Mayor Lee and any number of other people in their own wrongdoing, there’s absolutely nothing in (Tuesday’s) filing by Raymond Chow’s attorneys that suggests that Mayor Lee himself or his 2011 campaign did anything wrong or inappropriate”

    And Tim agrees that ” that there is nothing specific in the FBI documents attached to the filing to prove that Lee did anything wrong.”

    So what exactly did the FBI “sit on”? Are you suggesting that had the alleged targets been white, they would have been more forthcoming?

  45. So you oppose civil disobedience against unjust laws except when you don’t?

    Or are you just trying to switch every topic here into something about Airbnb – your singular obsession?

  46. Says the man who doesn’t pay taxes on his vacation rentals. Of course you are going to defend your ethically-challenged and criminal brothers.

  47. These are not corruption charges. They are part of the record collected by the FBI in their investigation that remained under seal during the last election and which have been subsequently unsealed and combed over by Tony Serra’s law office.

    The serious live question raised by this is why the FBI both sat on this information and did not indict Members Of The City Family In Good Standing and kept the information under seal until after the 2014 election?

  48. It’s a sad anachronism from the SFBG days. The headline “Ed Lee and the FBI corruption charges” sounds really negative so print it. Don’t worry about the fact that there are no FBI corruption charges, print it anyway. We’re Progressives, on a mission. We can’t be hindered by sticking to the truth.

    The SFBG had some cache and readership and it was really unfortunate in those days. Now it is just another harmless symbol of the demise of the progressive movement. Tim Redmond does actually claim to be a journalist (although apparently one unburdened by any standards whatsoever) which is unconscionable but, at this point, more amusing than harmful.

    BTW, John Avalos could not provide financial records for more than half the money he spent running for mayor, according to an Ethics Commission audit, . Think about that one. Have you seen one word about that from Tim Redmond? Are you surprised?

  49. Tim works on the basis that any smear against someone he personally disagrees with must be hyped up even when, as here, he also admits that there is zero evidence for the claims.

    Yet when one of his own does something bad, like Mirk bitch-slapping his wife, Tim goes all coy and cute.

    This is journalism? No, it’s a witch hunt against selective targets, based on ideological bias.

  50. Nothing happens in San Francisco without someone making a handsome profit. We don’t have to dig deep to find problems. Start with the low hanging fruit: Why isn’t Mel Murphy behind bars? Answer: Probably because of what he knows about others.

  51. What? You mean this happened in The Greatest World Class City (Even Better Than New York, London and Paris) Ever?

  52. Apparently no, corruption will not end here any time soon. My cousin lives in SC and the last time I visited he asked me, “How’s everything in the most corrupt city in the US. Chicago held the title for years, now that you have Lee the title is now yours. They’ll never convict him though, you don’t have to bribe him just stroke his ego a little bit.” This from Charleston, SC. As to Alverez, according to Chronicle he used HuD funds for Housing Authority buildings to sue local tenants rights organizations like Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, Tennant’s Union, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Eviction Defense Fund, Mission Tenant Association now Mission Economic Development Agency, etc. The Chron estimated that more than $1 million was spent on these lawsuits and then he was fired by Lee two months after story appeared for mismanagement and employee abuses. Coincidence?, Chron asked.

  53. And this in a Ex story when tne allegations against Keith Jackson broke: Sululagi Palega, a longtime friend of Jackson’s, said he’d be “very surprised” if the allegations against Jackson prove to be true. The two met while volunteering for various community organizations in the Western Addition and Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods.

    Palega said he’s always known Jackson to be generous, and that for the past five or so years they’ve helped distribute turkeys to senior citizens together over the holidays.

    “He always cared about people,” Palega said. “I don’t know where all this other stuff went wrong. He’s always been an advocate for the disadvantaged.” http://archives.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/charges-against-keith-jackson-come-as-surprise-to-some-not-others/Content?oid=2747706

  54. If the allegations against Sululagi Palega are true… From a 1996 examiner story:

    The Portola Recreation Center will be renamed Saturday for Sululagi Palega Jr., who was killed in 1994 in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

    Palega, 22, was the son of Sululagi Palega, a former member of the Housing Authority commission and a longtime anti-violence activist in San Francisco. The younger Palega was killed in a drive-by shooting March 19, 1994, in Modesto, where he had been playing with his church basketball team…

    “He just got murdered for nothing,” said the elder Palega, who has been associated with campaigns against youth violence in San Francisco for the past 30 years.


  55. Can’t believe Tim isn’t gloating over the fall in Twitter stock.

    Apple, too.

    With the meltdown in the Chinese stock market, with any luck, gentrification will be much less of an issue in San Francisco.

    Of course, then you can complain that SF tax collections are way down…

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