Conflicted Chron buries the lead in city corruption case

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Mayor Ed Lee arrives at court for a city corruption case in which he is a witness.
Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal

UPDATE 2/15: READ OUR CURRENT STORY ON THE CASE HERE. The San Francisco Chronicle's Matier and Ross love to poke snarky fun at progressives such as Matt Gonzalez, as they did again today when they wrote about his work on the Cobra Solutions vs. San Francisco case, for the second time. But they waited until the last paragraph in this second-to-last item in their column to reveal the real news: Mayor Ed Lee was deposed in the case last week and may be called as a witness.

Wow, talk about burying the lead. Here you have a sitting mayor implicated in a major corruption scandal – acting on orders from then-Mayor Willie Brown, who last year helped elevate Lee into Room 200 (and who just happens to write a weekly column for the Chronicle) – in a case that could cost city taxpayers $16 million.

The Chron hasn't really covered the substance of the case, but Guardian readers may remember our investigative report on it last year. That's when we unearthed evidence that Ed Lee, who was the city purchaser at the time, approved a fraudulent city contract – overruling city staff in the process – allegedly on orders from Brown.

It's a complicated case and a long story well worth reading, but essentially it involves a company called Government Computer Sales Inc. (GCSI) that had ties to Brown. It's accused of improperly getting a multi-million-dollar city contract with Lee's help and then soliciting kickbacks from its subcontractors, including Cobra Solutions.

Cobra claims it didn't know payments to GCSI were kickbacks and that it was damaged by the accusations and being frozen out of its city work by the City Attorney's Office (under Dennis Herrera, who has his own interesting conflicts in the case). Also implicated in the case are SFPUC Director (and then-Controller) Ed Harrington; Monique Zmuda, still a top official in the Controller's Office; and Steve Kawa, the chief-of-staff for Lee, Brown, and Gavin Newsom, and a powerful player at City Hall.

In a deposition, a city computer operations manager named Deborah Vincent-James testified that she and other city staffers knew GCSI was a fraudulent company, but that they were placed in the Computer Store (a list of qualified city contractors) to do work for the Department of Building Inspection on orders from above: "[Lee] was directed by the Mayor's Office and told to do an evaluation process. They evaluated them. They were put in the store."

UPDATE 2/7: Mayor Lee took the witness stand in court yesterday, where he was questioned by attorney Whitney Leigh about overruling staff to certify GCSI, which the City Attorney's Office has deemed a fraudulent company that has since left town and evaded justice. More on what he said later.

Comments

All the focus about Gonzalez moonlighting by trying this case are interesting given that SF firefighters reportedly often have second jobs.

Posted by The Commish on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

Firemen, cops and lawyers take the lion's share of the city budget. The average cop and firefighter took home average annual wages and benefits between $166,607 to $178,732 last year. In addition, Mayor Lee gave the police and firefighters’ unions a 4 percent compensation hike to offset the 3 percent increase in the pension contributions that they will have to make under Prop. C.

While Lee was taking care of cops and fire, Adachi was looking out for his lawyers. Had Prop. D passed, high-paid city workers like the lawyers in the PD's office, would have received a windfall with a guaranteed match of their elevated contributions.

Gonzalez earns $188,259 a year in his role as chief attorney in the PD's office.
He says he won't get a penny from this case, but just think of the prestige that will accrue to his (private) law firm if he does win. Every conteractor with a beef against the city will be crawling out of the woodwork to sue the city. And they will all want "the very best" to represent them. Nevermind the double-dealing...what's a little conflict of interest in SF politics?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 14, 2012 @ 5:23 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 14, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

Well, the depo's went awfully well. Let's see.... Ed Lee doesn't recollect any details, and Willie Brown can't rightly recall. Gonzalez and Leigh are suing the taxpayers for money that was stolen from SF taxpayers. Am I missing something?

Oh, and this is good.... Here's Gonzalez discussing conflicts of interest by SF pols with Willie Brown on Willie's show just six months ago:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xFx1Od0SXE&feature=related

Finally, can someone please explain why Gonzalez stood up for Ed Lee, on Willie Brown's show no less, claiming that he "knows Ed Lee" as that he's the kind of guy who "gets things done" (implying that he's somehow a 'standup guy' ) in the midst of this lawsuit against the city? (a suit that is supposedly about corruption in the Brown administration.) Curioser and curioser.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrJmFUxKI9E&feature=related

Posted by Guest 99 on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

*curiouser and curiouser (typo)

Posted by Guest 99 on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

deposition? Really?

Here's the difference.

Ross is a defendant. Lee is a witness.

But you wouldn't know that distinction if you got all your "news" from the SFBG.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

We and every other media outlet in town have extensively covered the Mirkarimi case. Not only is it not being ignored, it's a frickin' media circus. Just the fact that Eliana Lopez got a new attorney rated the lead item and a big photo in the Chron. Yet even if the allegations against Mirkarimi are proven true, that isn't official misconduct. In fact, it has nothing to do with his official duties. But this lawsuit, which is being ignored and glossed over by the local media, does involve allegations of official misconduct and corruption by the current mayor and a former mayor. And it could cost the city millions of dollars. Is that a distinction that you think we should ignore?

Posted by steven on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

any way considered to have acted illegally or unethically. He has merely been asked some questions, as is routine in such cases.

The Chronicle is reporting that fairly by acknowledging that it's a minir, routine matter. While you are trying to drum up controversy and intrigue by suggesting (without presenting any evidence) that there is any case against Lee.

So you discount the serious charges against Ross and yet totally fabricate insinuations against a totally innocent Lee. Biased much?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 4:36 pm

There is indeed evidence of corruption, and it's a red herring to raise the Ross case, which has no relevance to this story at all. We're covering them both, unlike other media outlets.

Posted by steven on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

He's not the target here in the sense that Ross is.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 8:06 am

Corruption is minor and routine in San Francisico.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 8:15 pm

I agree that the Chronicle seems to be glossing over the possibility that Lee's behaved unethically. Corruption should be ferreted out with unwavering tenacity, no exceptions.

But, aren't you burying some of the details of the case in your article as well? I believe it to be a significant point that Gonzalez represented Cobra in his private practice for quite awhile before attaining the position he holds now - Chief Attorney in the Public Defender’s Office. That is a clear and irrefutable conflict of interest.

In any case, I do think Lee has gotten a pass on some questionable shenanigans that probably would have been major issues had they involved someone with fewer friends in high places.

Posted by RamRod on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

It is not a conflict of interest for a PD to take a leave of absence to represent a party that is in legal conflict with the City as represented by the City Attorney.

Words have meaning, in this case legal meaning. In this case, Gonzalez does not serve two masters, as the PD's office is not legal party to the corruption matter with Cobra.

Whether or not Gonzalez violated Adachi's policies is another matter, a personnel matter, not a legal matter.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 10:59 am

As I wrote previous, a public defender's job is not to shield the city from liability. In fact, it's often just the opposite role, an office that often clashes with other city departments (Police, DA, City Attorney's Office, etc.) to bring bad behavior by city officials into the light of day.

Posted by steven on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 11:43 am

Ed Lee can't focus on his duties as mayor while something like this is going on. So for the good of the city he needs to step aside till this over, because we deserve a full time mayor. For his own good too -i care about his wellbeing, and the longer he stays on while there's a court case hanging over him, the more his reputation is sullied by the media circus that is sure to result. If he steps aside and he's cleared, he'll look like a statesman. But if he tries to stay on, he'll be dogged by these allegations. Even if he's ultimately cleared, it will do irreperable damage to his ability to govern.

Posted by Brown Monk Claptrap on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

the same way that being accused of multiple violent crimes renders Ross's mandate to be moot?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

We all hate Ross. I hate him more than anyone. In fact, my whole purpose here is to hate on Ross. But I'm just trying to be consistent, 'cause I'm no hypocrite like those progressives. If we can drive Ross out of office for being accused of bruising someone's arm, without knowing anything about the facts of the case beyond that, then surely we should ask our esteemed mayor to take a leave of absence. And it is, after all, for his own good. Because I care, you know. Just like some posters care about Ross enough to ask him to step aside (not me, because I hate the guy)... but others do. And I think my fellow moderates who say they're concerned about Ross's well-being are totally sincere. And since we moderates are so sincere in our concern for Ross's well being, not to mention our concern for the city, I think we should all be consistent and ask Ed Lee to step aside during what I'm sure is a very difficult time for him.

Posted by Brown Monk Claptrap on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 6:13 pm
^

pathetic little wanker.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

Speak the truth brother!

Posted by h. Brownnose on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

You're not going to change the corporate media. But you do have your own. That picture needs to be your next cover, with the headline "Mayor Lee Deposed in Corruption Case."

Posted by Greg on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

Progressive: Innocent until proven guilty
Moderate: Guilty if asked questions

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

Not necessarily guilty, but this needs to be covered. That's all I'm sayin'.

That, and I do hope the prosecutors pursue this with at least as much zeal as they're pursuing the Mirkarimi case. More actually, because this would actually involve abuse of the office (unlike Ross's case), and there is an actual complaint (also unlike Ross's case).

Obviously the mayor shouldn't be removed unless he's convicted of a crime related to his job.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

They are used in civil cases to obtain information from witnesses.

Witnesses, not defendants.

Being deposed is a non-issue.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 8:08 am

people advocate for, and then those people get all worked up over the system.

Ed Lee wins election and there is all sorts of room to bitch about it, even though he won under the system the progressive advocated for, and now they are trying to overturn that election with these conspiracy theories. Just like the establishment is trying to do to Ross, or so Greg insisted.

The womens studies left, of which Greg is a member got all these laws put together and on the books, now Boss Ross is suffering these laws. Under this system that progressives advocated for, now it's all so unfair. Not to mention that the "establishment" is doing what they always do, overturning an election that they couldn't win at the ballot box, because Ross is such a righteous man of the cause.

There really is no wrong answer with true believers, Ross is s saint and being persecuted, it's just the members of the establishment conspiracy out to get him, like they do all perfected progressive human beings. While it's the perfect time for the progressobots to get even with Ed Lee for all past slights.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 9:25 am

One death is a tragedy, a million a statistic said Stalin.

If Ross did what they say he did and that is deemed by a jury to be a crime, he should pay, full stop.

However, this case appears to be on the knife edge of the law, from what little we know.

The balance here is between a DV case that impacts a family, the entire point of DV law is to keep a partner and society safe from a violent partner on one hand, and violence done to tens of thousands of voters on the other hand.

The magnitude of one crime, DV, pales in comparison to the magnitude of another crime, political manipulation of the justice system to overturn an election, both in scope and scale of violations of the law and in the number of individuals wronged.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 11:42 am

other cases get this much DA office attention.

But it really is getting out of hand on this one.

I don't have any sympathy for Mirlkarimi since he wants the government in everyones business at every turn.

Considering the wifes position and the lack of severity as far as seems public, the restraining order is over doing it. But these are the catch all one size fits all laws that our progressives specialize in.

I would be more inclined to think that everyone is covering their bases, if things keep popping up against Ross and the DA lets it all go here, the DA is going to get second guessed for years to come. I would think it's more of a safe than sorry plan.

50 years old is a little old to be man handling the wife by the way.

Posted by liza grag on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

because you aren't the one who was physically/emotionally abused (allegedly. I'm in full support of the process playing out before throwing any stones). But I don't get your equation here between DV and "political manipulation of the justice system to overturn an election." Where is that happening? Sounds like some type of strawman argument. I'm no expert on DV law, but so far from what I've read this case is being handled just as any other DV case would be. Where's the manipulation?

Posted by DanO on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

The law is not about how the individual alleged victim feels, it is a matter between society at large and the accused. You can't walk down both sides of the street and say that the alleged victim's feeling are relevant in balancing out the magnitude of the alleged crime while claiming that the alleged victim's feelings are irrelevant, can you discern that distinction?

Tens of thousands of people would see the constitution crapped on if it turns out that this has been politically and choreographed in order to overturn an election compared to a wife and minor child who have already seen their names dragged through the mud, the son's name repeatedly in violation of basic journalistic standards not to mention plain decency, in what appears to be a politically tainted kangaroo court.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

Lee is merely a witness at this point.

See the difference?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

Perhaps the past election was stolen through the commission of crimes. That case is more grievous than DV as it is a crime against constitutional guarantees. If the last election was indeed stolen through violations of the law, are you claiming that someone should be allowed to remain in possession of stolen goods?

Posted by marcos on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

on the whiff of corruption around Gonzalez? ZERO!!
You might regain your credibility if you covered the scandals around your heroes with the same zeal you show in criticizing the Chron and other outlets.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 8:22 pm

It's 'lede', not 'lead.' Shouldn't your editor know that?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

Actually, both are correct. They're interchangeable (look it up, or just follow the link I used). As a print journalist of 20 years, I tend to use "lede" more than "lead," but I've found that it's something journalists get but which is often confusing to the public, so for general interest stories I tend to use "lead" these days.

Posted by steven on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 11:56 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

You have all got to be kidding me. Ed Lee may be Mr. Nice-Guy, but his corruption goes way back. I'm all for him being deposed and everything. Matt Gonzales sponsored some good legislation but he had a reputation for being a bit of prima donna, my-way-or-the-highway kind of person. Jeff Adachi has definitely been a good public defender but all these people get high on each other's you-know-whats that come out of their butts. Ross Mirkarimi, I hate to say, is the most sympathetic of all of them (but I have learned my lesson, and will never never vote for him again, because even more sympathetic than Ross are his wife and especially his son). It's a very privileged world that they all live in when the rest of us just need to make sure we have money to pay next month's rent.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

You have all got to be kidding me. Ed Lee may be Mr. Nice-Guy, but his corruption goes way back. I'm all for him being deposed and everything. Matt Gonzales sponsored some good legislation but he had a reputation for being a bit of prima donna, my-way-or-the-highway kind of person. Jeff Adachi has definitely been a good public defender but all these people get high on each other's you-know-whats that come out of their butts. Ross Mirkarimi, I hate to say, is the most sympathetic of all of them (but I have learned my lesson, and will never never vote for him again, because even more sympathetic than Ross are his wife and especially his son). It's a very privileged world that they all live in when the rest of us just need to make sure we have money to pay next month's rent.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2012 @ 10:38 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 8:09 am

That's simply untrue. Just look at our coverage of Mirkarimi.

Posted by steven on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 11:59 am

Steven, you know I appreciate you and as a member of the progressive intelligentsia am a big fan of the role you've long played in the progressive community in town. But 3-4 stories on Mirkarimi in a month is not extensive coverage in any way.

I recently was discussing this very issue with another member of the progressive intelligentsia. We both agreed that it appears the SFBG is deciding to treat the Mirkarimi issue with kid gloves - considering he's the only citywide-elected progressive. Our opinion carries a lot of weight with other progressive intelligentsia members - so perhaps you should consider that.

Go Giants!

Regards - h.

Posted by h. Brownnose on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

By my count, we've done five stories on the Mirkarimi case (Tim did four, I wrote one), and we've had hundreds of comments on those stories. Frankly, I'd say that's pretty extensive coverage, particulalry given the facts that everyone has been extensively covering this story (we don't generally like to use our limited resources to duplicate what's already out there) and there aren't a whole lot of important new facts that have been emerging lately. We'll continue to cover significant developments, particularly the trial, and we'll weigh in with our perspective when the situation warrants. We've never been one to simply join the media circus, but when there's something to say, we'll say it. Right now, I don't think there's anything wrong with just waiting to see how this plays out.

Posted by steven on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

Insinuating Lee has done something wrong just because he is deposed as a witness to a civil lawsuit is irresponsible journalism. Shame on you.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

trying to overturn an election that they couldn't win at the ballot box.

Posted by liza grag on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 11:26 am

Again, that's simply not true. We wrote about this case a year ago, back when Ed Lee was still telling everyone that he was not running for mayor. And despite some sarcastic comments on this thread, nobody is trying to remove Ed Lee over this case. He's not the one on trial and the statute of limitations on his actions has long since passed, but it's nonetheless important to understand how the Brown Administration did business and the role Ed Lee played. Both are still quite powerful in this town and it's useful to know how they operate. Knowledge is power.

Posted by steven on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

nothing material to say about current news.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 22, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

I have a question slightly off the thread:

I've been wondering about outside-the-county-law-enforcement support for Chris Cunnie in the election. I ask because I believe some of Ross' opponents are already gearing up for a recall campaign no matter which way the trial goes. I expect outside money would come into such a campaign.

I tried to research this with no result and thought I might ask some of the experts here.

Posted by barry eisenberg on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

You can find this information at the SF Ethics Commission site. Type in Chris Cunnie's name, then check out his e-filings. Scroll down to Schedule A: Monetary Contributions Received, then look to see who contributed, their occupation and location. It's tedious, but if you have time and patience, you'll be able to find what you're looking for. Here's the link:

http://nf4.netfile.com/pub2/(S(21g02ame5e1hrb45cgzavu55))/Default.aspx?focus=SearchName

Posted by Guest on Feb. 12, 2012 @ 5:52 pm

I find it very interesting that Mr. Eisenberg is allowed to post anything on this site - he is a vicious rapist and attempted murderer - even loved it so much he wrote a book about it. "Deep Fool - Summer of Hate; Winter of Love". You can buy it on Amazon - and, he did not, as he claims, donate one dime to Women Against Rape - the crimes were too heinous and they would not accept the funds. I should know, I am the woman he raped and tried to murder as he so carefully describes his every move in Chapter 1 of the book.

Posted by Guest of Mr. Eisenberg on Feb. 27, 2012 @ 11:37 pm

If anyone has any details on this case I would be grateful. I don't want to buy the book for ethical reasons. Can't find anything on google and wonder if there was ever a trial.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 7:48 am

Anyone have any info or links on campaign contributions to Ross' opponents in the election?

Posted by barry eisenberg on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 7:18 pm

Steve and Tim, you may have done, what, five stories on this matter? BUT NOT ONE OF THEM IS IN YOUR PAPER ISSUE OF THE GUARDIAN. That is shameful. Ross Mirkarimi deserves a fair trial, but he was well-known in city hall for berating his staff. We don't know the link between people who are verbally abusive and those who are physically abusive, but it sure deserves some discussion. In the case of Ross Mirkarimi, there is a child at stake.

Posted by Sue on Feb. 07, 2012 @ 7:30 pm