There is, at this point, no smoking gun to implicate Ed Lee in any illegal behavior related to the Shrimp Boy case. But the tapes played in the preliminary hearing, based on wiretapped phone calls, present a predictable picture of corruption in a previous administration.
In fact, the tapes reinforce what many political reporters and activists have argued for years: Willie Brown’s office was all about pay to play. The sleazy operators who surrounded the former mayor, who now has the glory of a column in the Chronicle and a bridge named after him, were pissed when Gavin Newsom took that office – and thrilled when Ed Lee moved in.
Zula Jones was a contract officer in the Human Rights Commission who is under indictment for accepting bribes. She was part of an alleged scam to raise money to retire Lee’s campaign debt.
She has been quoted in the past talking about pay to play, but the new revelations confirm that, from her perspective, Brown was the perfect mayor because he “just let your loose.” From what I can tell from that statement, she’s saying that Brown allowed his people to shake down for money anyone who needed favors from City Hall.
From the tapes, according to the Chron:
“We’re getting our ducks back in a row,” Jones said in one call. “For eight years, we’ve been sort of lost after Willie Brown left. But I told them this isn’t reinventing the wheel. It’s just getting it all back together.”
She bragged that she was trained in these ways by Brown, as was Lee.
“Willie Brown was just the best mayor. … He’d just let you loose,” Jones said. “I’m just excited that Ed Lee, who also worked under the Willie Brown administration, is the mayor and knows what to do.”
Now: Jones is not necessarily a credible witness. But these aren’t statements made on the stand, under oath – this is what she said when she thought nobody was listening.
She could also be bragging, suggesting that she was more important than she was. From all we know so far, Jones wasn’t getting a cut of the money she raised for Ed Lee. She was helping an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer get a meeting with the new mayor. We don’t know if she was compensated for that.
We also know that it would be a huge stretch, given everything we know about Brown’s administration and the Lee campaign, to say that she was making everything up on a wiretapped phone call.
From the Examiner, which went into more detail than the Chron:
Ultimately, King sent a $10,000 cashier’s check to [Former Human Rights Commissioner Nazly] Mohajer and a $500 check to Lee’s campaign.
Mohajer was described by Jones, who said she and Lee had been trained by Brown, as Lee’s top fundraiser.
“If you give it to her, you will get credit for it,” Jones said to the FBI agent.
In court, FBI Special Agent Ethan Quinn testified that King sent a $10,000 check to Mohajer with the understanding that he would get a face-to-face meeting with Lee and be given special access and treatment on development deals. In order to cover up the size of the donation, Mohajer would break it up into legally allowed donations of $500 through straw donors.
All of these tactics were learned from Brown, the former mayor, Jones said.
It’s fair to ask about the people politicians surround themselves with, and it’s fair to ask why someone who makes these sorts of comments and someone who laundered money so freely was ever in the Ed Lee campaign circle, why she would be able to arrange a meeting with the mayor for a developer.
Trust me: There aren’t that many people who can just get the mayor on the phone and arrange a meeting with him for someone he’s never heard of. There had to be some connection there.
And it’s fair to ask: Why would Jones talk so highly of Brown, and of his pay-to-play acumen, and of the general corruption of his administration, if none of that were true?
Willie Brown’s not going to get in any legal trouble – he’s way too smart for that. Brown didn’t say anything on the phone, didn’t use email, didn’t let his employees take meeting notes … the guy understands the rules of evidence.
And as far as the public knows, Lee was just an innocent victim, someone unsophisticated in politics who was taken advantage of by a crew of crooks.
But I’m looking at a world in which distrust of government is at Olympian levels, and an incompetent buffoon got elected president by saying that everyone in Washington is corrupt … and then I look at this shit in San Francisco, and I shake my head.
Willie Brown may have done some good things as mayor, and he clearly did a lot of bad things as mayor, but when you empower this level of sleaze, you undermine faith in government.
And that leads to very, very bad things.