Lawsuit alleges Lee campaign accepted illegal donations from undercover agent

By Max Cherney

Mayor Ed Lee has been named in a civil lawsuit that alleges he conspired to accept bribes in the form of illegal campaign contributions from an undercover FBI agent involved in the far-reaching federal corruption and racketeering probe into State Sen. Leland Yee, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and 26 other defendants. The lawsuit is being leveled by an attorney working on Shrimp Boy’s behalf.

Filed yesterday [Thu/18] in San Francisco Superior Court, the lawsuit ties a $500 donation toward Lee’s 2011 successful bid for mayor to a man named Michael Anthony King, who the lawsuit claims was the same undercover federal agent referred to as UCE 4773 in the complaint against Yee.

King’s $500 donation was a part of more than $20,000 that the federal agent illegally contributed to the mayor’s campaign, according to the lawsuit. Individual contributions over $500 to the same candidate are against the law in San Francisco.

“From what we can tell, undercover agents have illegally been putting money into politicians’ pockets,” attorney Cory Briggs, who filed the lawsuit on Chow’s behalf, told us. In June, Briggs filed a public records request with the city of San Francisco, seeking documents associated with the campaign donations and additional cash allegedly contributed through individuals “involved in government” who were working for Lee’s campaign.

“What we want to know, is that when I asked on Raymond’s behalf about this, which we defined to include the transfer and payment of money to campaigns, why did the mayor not produce records of King’s donation? The public is entitled to an answer.” Cory Briggs is the brother of Curtis Briggs, who, along with Gregory Bentley, and famed civil rights attorney J. Tony Serra, represent Shrimp Boy in the criminal case.

Since individual donations totaling more than $500 are prohibited in San Francisco, the remaining $19,500 to an unnamed San Francisco elected official’s political campaign was allegedly spread out among dozens of straw donors, by two campaign staffers and political consultant Keith Jackson — also indicted by the feds — in an illegal attempt to mask the source of the funds, according to court documents in the Yee case.

According to the feds, the undercover agent was encouraged “by Individuals A and B to make donations to the elected official in excess of the lawful limit,” a motion filed by the feds in Sept. reads. “Each spoke plainly about the fact that they would have to break up UCE-4773’s donations among straw donors. UCE-4773 initially made a $10,000 donation in the form of a check made payable to Individual B and a $500 donation in the form of a check made payable to the elected official’s campaign.”

Despite rumors swirling that the $20,000 went to Ed Lee, the feds haven’t publicly stated which politician the funds went to. Nor have the feds released the alias that Undercover Employee (UCE-4773) used to make the contributions, or the names of the campaign staffers allegedly involved in the conspiracy — who were “involved in government” at the time, according to the feds’ motion.

Mayor Lee’s campaign is aware of King’s $500 donation, according to Kevin Heneghan, who served as campaign treasurer. The campaign sent a letter to the US Attorney’s Office seeking to verify whether or not the donation indeed came from a federal agent, Heneghan noted, but hasn’t yet received a response. The campaign hired a law firm to vet the campaign donations after the US Attorney’s Office announced the sprawling indictment that now includes racketeering charges.

Both the FBI and US Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the lawsuit, or the alleged connection between Michael King and the campaign donations to Mayor Lee’s campaign. Several emails to King were also not returned.

Many details contained in the far-reaching federal corruption probe match what the Bay Guardian has learned about King. US Attorney William Frentzen’s court filings in the Yee corruption trial stated that after being introduced to two campaign staffers, UCE 4773 contributed $500 to the campaign with a personal check.

Michael A. King of Buford, Georgia donated $500 to Leland Yee’s mayoral campaign on Sept. 22, 2011, San Francisco campaign contribution records show. King contributed another $500 to Ed Lee for Mayor on Mar. 15, 2012, months after Lee had been elected. At the time, Lee had approximately $300,000 in campaign debt, according to filings with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in August, an unnamed source told the newspaper that a man with the surname “King” appeared in the Bay Area in the fall of 2011 looking to invest in Bay Area real estate projects.

To secure Bay Area real estate investments and other business contracts, UCE 4773 posed as an Atlanta, Georgia-based real estate developer seeking political favors from Yee, and an unnamed San Francisco elected official, according to court documents. Another undercover agent in the case, known as UCE 4599 — posing as a member of the La Cosa Nostra crime syndicate — introduced UCE 4773 to political consultant Keith Jackson after Jackson allegedly repeatedly asked UCE 4599 to donate to Sen. Yee’s campaign.

According to court documents, UCE 4773 met with the unnamed San Francisco official after he contributed the cash. Prior to the meeting, the campaign staffers, identified by the feds as “Individuals A and B” told UCE 4773 not to mention the donation scheme to the elected official.

The King Funding Group, which is controlled by M.A. King and Associates — the company listed on Michael King’s $500 donation to Mayor Lee’s campaign — also donated $500 to Leland Yee’s bid for Mayor, according to donation records. With Jackson’s help UCE 4773 also donated tens of thousands of dollars to Sen. Yee’s campaign, including a personal check for $500 to the campaign written in Yee’s presence.

According to court filings the government has made in the far-reaching corruption and racketeering investigation, the unnamed San Francisco elected official wasn’t the target of the investigation. Instead, the government focused on Keith Jackson and various members of the Chee Kung Tong organization, which Chow, aka “Shrimp Boy,” was allegedly leader of.

However, the feds did look into other politicians in San Francisco. Sups. London Breed and Malia Cohen both met with an undercover FBI agent using the name William Joseph on several occasions, according to records obtained by the Bay Guardian. The meetings didn’t amount to anything, and Breed dismissed Joseph as a hustler, according to a Chronicle report.