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Ex-Speaker Setencich Convicted of Tax Evasion

From Associated Press

Brian Setencich, a former state Assembly speaker and former City Council member, was convicted Thursday of cheating on his taxes.

A U.S. District Court jury found that Setencich, now a special assistant to San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, filed a false tax return understating his 1996 income by $19,300.

He was cleared of filing a false 1997 return.

The trial was Setencich’s second after a jury in February acquitted him of bribery and mail fraud, but deadlocked on the tax counts.

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Setencich was indicted as part of the city’s Operation Rezone corruption probe, which led to more than a dozen convictions of politicians and developers.

Setencich, 38, was disappointed by the verdict, but remained philosophical and optimistic.

“I think sometimes things work out in life for the best, but we don’t realize it at the time,” Setencich told Associated Press. “I think this possibly could be one of those times.”

Defense lawyer Anthony Capozzi said he plans to argue for acquittal and a new trial when Setencich is sentenced Sept. 11.

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Setencich faces a sentence of four months to a year in prison, Capozzi said.

Setencich was indicted in 1998 after testifying as a character witness for Fresno developer Rod De Luca, who was acquitted in the six-year investigation.

“To me this was a vendetta by the government to get Brian Setencich,” Capozzi said.

Assistant U.S. Atty. John K. Vincent, who tried the case, was not immediately available for comment.

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When he was indicted, Setencich was accused of taking money as a Fresno City Council member in 1993 from local businessman Robert Yang in exchange for arranging to waive rental fees at the Fresno Convention Center.

Prosecutors also alleged that Setencich used a check-cashing scheme to illegally drain more than $30,000 in campaign funds from his failed 1996 bid for reelection to the Legislature.

He allegedly wrote checks from his campaign account and then had the money funneled back to him through Yang.

Capozzi attacked the credibility of Yang, the star witness in both trials and a twice-convicted felon who pleaded guilty to bribery, fraud and witness tampering in the case.

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Yang was the sole witness to testify about the bulk of the income Setencich failed to report and Capozzi said he would argue that Yang’s testimony be thrown out.

Setencich admitted that he mistakenly failed to report $2,100 in 1996. He said he reported about $80,000 in income that year.

Setencich was a Republican freshman in September 1995 when he accepted the speakership of a narrowly divided Assembly with the backing of Brown and Democrats.

He was replaced in January 1996 and lost his reelection bid after being labeled a traitor by Republicans.

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Brown hired Setencich, a former professional basketball player in Europe, in November 1997 for a $65,000-a-year job as liaison officer for San Francisco’s 911 emergency telephone system.

A spokesman in Brown’s office said he was unsure if Setencich would lose his job because of the felony conviction, but Setencich said he assumes he won’t be working there after his sentencing.

“I don’t mean to sound upbeat,” Setencich said, “but there is some relief.”


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