A former city employee and a former city commissioner who helped raise money for Mayor Ed Lee's 2011 election bid were charged with felony bribery today, District Attorney George Gascón announced.
Zula Jones, who was Lee's employee of the year at the Human Rights Commission, and Nazly Mohajer, a Marin County businesswoman and former commissioner on the HRC who contributed to the campaigns of Lee and current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — who first named her to the Human Rights Commission — were both caught on an FBI wiretap discussing how to launder campaign contributions, the SF Examiner reported in August.
The wiretapped conversations became public during the trial of now-convicted Chinatown mobster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.
That led to an investigation. And on Friday, Gascón announced felony charges against Jones, Mohajer, and former political consultant Keith Jackson, who with his former boss, state Sen. Leland Yee, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges this past summer.
This week, it was revealed that another Lee campaign contribution brokered by Jones led to a city contract for the donor, a Richmond, California-based lumber company.
And while nobody in Lee's inner circle has yet to be charged with a crime, these are the closest charges to the mayor yet — and proof that Lee knew that San Francisco is where you have “to pay to play,” as Jones said on a wiretap.
In a statement, Gascón said that “any perversion of the public trust will be met with severe consequences.”
“Corruption casts a long shadow on our institutions and the public’s notions of fairness,” he added. “This is a sad day for San Francisco, and we have a lot of work to do to repair the people’s confidence in city government.”
The trio are accused of accepting $20,000 from an undercover FBI agent who posed as a businessman, according to the District Attorney. In the wiretapped conversations released over the summer, Jones and Mohajer discuss how to divvy up the $20,000 into chunks that are legally acceptable campaign contributions — and they also tell the FBI agent that Lee “knows” that he's the one who's giving a significant amount of money.
Lee has in the past disavowed any knowledge of corrupt dealings and told media that he ran a “clean campaign.”
Jones, however, told the FBI agent that San Francisco's way of doing business is “pay to play” — and that the playbook was handed down by none other than former Mayor Willie Brown, who is seen as playing an active role in the elevation of Lee to mayor in 2011.
“You got to pay to play here. We got it. We know this. We are the best at this game … better than New York. We do it a little more sophisticated than New Yorkers. We do it without the mafia,” Jones told the agent.
This is hard to unravel, we realize. Here's an infographic from last summer to help explain how.