Loose Lips

Investigations Into Gray, D.C. Council Loom Over Chinatown Restaurateur’s Trial

In other towns, connections to city hall movers and shakers might speak to good citizenship. The District isn't that kind of place.

Attorneys for frequent District political donor and Chinatown restaurateur Tony Cheng and his son, who have been charged with bribery, want to find out whether knowledge of an acquaintance between their clients and local politicians would prejudice potential jurors.

In documents filed in court last month, Cheng's son's lawyer proposes asking members of the jury if knowing that Cheng is "acquainted" with Mayor Vince Gray and councilmembers would affect their verdict. Cheng's lawyers want to ask jurors whether media coverage of previous District corruption investigations has affected how they would judge Cheng.

Older investigations hang over the government's case, too. Along with the $1,500 in cash that the Chengs are accused of using to bribe a former taxicab commissioner, the evidence list from the U.S. Attorney's Office includes Council taxi medallion legislation once proposed by Marion BarryMichael Brown, and Harry Thomas Jr.... before the latter two pleaded guilty to their own federal charges.

The prosecution's evidence lists 24 audio recordings, including one recorded at one of Cheng's Chinatown restaurants. One or more of those features Cheng talking about Wilson Building District pols, according to the elder Cheng's attorney.

But potential jurors will never hear some of those recordings if the Chengs have their way. Both father and son are fighting the use of recorded FBI and IRS interviews conducted at their Alexandria homes that the U.S. Attorney's Office describes as "incriminating."

Both Chengs' lawyers didn't respond to LL's requests for comment, while the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment. Jury selection is scheduled to start on May 5.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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