Prosecutors have charged a San Francisco man for allegedly defrauding nearly 20 members of the city’s Asian community who were applying for the city’s low-income housing program.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris announced the charges against real estate agent Kan Yin Chow this morning at a news conference at the Hall of Justice.

Chow, 51, worked as an independent contractor for HomeBricks, a subsidiary of the Bridge Housing Corp., which was in turn contracted by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency to help applicants receive low-income housing.

During the process, however, prosecutors say Chow asked 19 applicants for between $1,000 and $5,000 apiece to help guide them through the process and secure the homes they wanted. The incidents took place between October 2008 and Oct. 31, 2009.

An investigation began when one of the applicants became suspicious about Chow’s alleged request for a $5,000 “loan” to help procure a home for her.

Some of the other alleged victims believed Chow was an influential public official who had the power to determine who would receive a home, according to prosecutors.

Total losses are estimated at about $35,000, Harris said.

Harris called Chow a “classic predator” who “took advantage of vulnerable individuals” who were simply hoping to get affordable housing in the city.

“There is no pay-to-play for affordable housing in San Francisco,” said Olson Lee of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.

Lee said people should continue to apply for homes “knowing that they will get a fair shake in the application process.”

Lyn Hikida, a spokeswoman for Bridge Housing, said today that all of their sales people, including Chow, went through “an extensive vetting process.”

Hikida said Chow was hired to assist mainly Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking residents, and had a clean real estate license and track record prior to his hiring. His contract with the company was terminated after the investigation began, she said.

Chow turned himself in to police Wednesday and was arraigned in San Francisco Superior Court this morning on 28 felony counts of grand theft and other fraud-related charges. Bail is set at $615,000.

Chow is also being charged with identification theft for allegedly running up about $70,000 on the credit cards of his ex-wife and daughter to fund a gambling habit.

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