A federal judge denied a motion to dismiss criminal charges against alleged gang leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow today, finding the defense lacked evidence that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was purposely overlooked during a five-year investigation into organized crime connections to local politicians.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said veteran defense attorney Tony Serra produced no evidence that Lee committed any crimes when contacted by undercover FBI agents, unlike former state Sen. Leland Yee and former San Francisco school board president Keith Jackson.
Serra and co-counsel Curtis Briggs argued in their motion for dismissal that the FBI had evidence Lee took as much as $20,000 in illegal campaign donations but investigators did not pursue that, preferring to focus on Chow.
Chow’s attorneys argue he was targeted because of his outspokenness, political influence and community organizing through the Chee Kung Tong, a group that federal prosecutors allege was an organized criminal enterprise but Serra and Briggs say did charitable work.
Chow has previously admitted to being a gang member and served federal sentences for racketeering and gun charges. But Serra and Briggs argue that Chow has turned his life around since his 2003 release from prison.
A federal indictment filed last year accuses Chow of committing numerous federal crimes through his position as leader of the Chee Kung Tong. He has been charged with racketeering, conspiracy to receive and transport stolen liquor, conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes and money laundering of the proceeds.
The indictment included 28 other defendants, including Yee and Jackson, who federal prosecutors implicated in several crimes including a weapons trafficking plot to help fund Yee’s 2011 campaign for mayor and 2014 campaign for secretary of state.
Yee and Jackson both pleaded guilty in July to participating in a racketeering conspiracy to receive campaign contributions in exchange for political favors by Yee.
But Serra and Briggs argued today that the federal investigation into other city politicians did not go far enough and instead fixated on Chow, ignoring Lee because he was “too big to fall,” Serra said.
The prosecution was “obsessively dogging our client in every possible way,” Serra said.
They said there is evidence the mayor was in the same room as former Human Rights Commission compliance officer Zula Jones as she spoke on the phone with an undercover FBI agent about a $10,000 donation to Lee’s campaign, assuring the agent Lee knew where the money was coming from.
The agent, posing as a Georgia businessman, later met with Lee to discuss possible real estate opportunities in San Francisco, according to the attorneys.
However, they produced no evidence the Lee had done any political favors for the agents following the campaign donations. In fact, a filing by the attorneys includes a quote from Jackson in an FBI recording stating Lee never came through.
Breyer said as he ruled against the defense motion for dismissal today that he sees “no evidence whatsoever of any criminal wrongdoing by the mayor.”
The judge, citing a high burden of evidence set by the U.S. Supreme Court to make an argument for selective prosecution, also denied Serra and Briggs’ request for further evidence in the case that they believe might bolster their claims that the FBI targeted Chow while overlooking Lee.
Serra said not allowing them to look at the evidence hampers a potential case for Chow since they can’t be sure if there is evidence that Lee committed a crime that the federal prosecutors are withholding.
“This is a political case,” Serra said. “It cries out for some kind of judicial intervention.”
Serra said outside of court that he was not surprised by the judge’s decision but plans to file further motions for dismissal before the case goes to trial later this year.
But if the judge doesn’t find in Chow’s favor in those motions, “We’ll get our justice from the jury — from the people,” Serra said.
Scott Morris, Bay City News