U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer on Friday denied a federal prosecution request that pre-trial filngs by Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow -- which included excerpts of confidential wiretap evidence against a number of politicians -- be sealed, saying that doing so would "serve no useful purpose" as the documents "are available on the Internet and have been widely publicized."
However, Breyer said, he would consider whether Chow -- indicted in a sweeping probe of public corruption, money laundering and more -- and his attorneys had improperly disclosed the evidence, which was subject to a court protective order.
The U.S. attorney's office had asked Breyer to seal the documents, arguing that making them public not only violated that order but placed others in potential danger.
Of greatest concern, they noted, was potential harm that could come to a public official who wore a body wire in a meeting with Chow, an encounter "that stemmed directly from a perceived threat from Chow."
The official's name was disclosed in Chow's filings.
Chow is the so-called dragonhead of a Chinatown fraternal organization and previously served time in federal prison on an organized crime conviction.
His motion, filed on Tuesday, contends he has reformed and is being selectively prosecuted, while public officials who were heard in wiretapped conversations arranging or discussing possibly illegal schemes were not indicted.
It seeks dismissal of the indictment or, barring that, disclosure in pre-trial discovery of all records surrounding the FBI decision to pursue Chow.
Assistant U.S. Atty. William Frentzen on Thursday referred to Chow's motion as "a vehicle to create a media splash" and an "outlandish conspiracy theory."
Furthermore, he added, it could have been pursued without risking "the safety and security of someone who cooperated with law enforcement against an organization that is alleged to have engaged in, among other things, murder-for-hire, drug trafficking, money laundering and weapons trafficking."
Curtis L. Briggs, the attorney who crafted Chow's motion, said federal prosecutors have mistakenly accused Briggs of violating the protective order once before and " need to improve their skills at evaluating and enforcing criminal conduct…. Just like for my client, it is the public arena where justice will be served."
The order "has major loopholes and exceptions and is limited in its scope, but they would have to read it to know that," he said, noting that he finds it "unsettling" that an FBI agent involved in the probe has been assigned to investigate him.
Among those named in Chow's motion as an "unindicted politician" implicated by the probe is San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
No disclosed evidence showed Lee engaging in wrongdoing. But two Human Rights Commission officials affiliated with his 2011 election campaign were captured in wiretapped conversations explaining how they planned to break up $10,000 donations -- which exceeds the limits under campaign finance law -- into smaller amounts in the names of straw donors.
One, Zula Jones, told an undercover agent that Lee was aware of the scheme. Jones has not responded to a request for comment. Lee has denied any wrongdoing.
The disclosed excerpts of wiretaps also named several other local politicians.
Chow was the initial target of an FBI probe that led to the indictment of 29 people, among them former state Sen. Leland Yee, who pleaded guilty July 1 to racketeering.
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