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Is John Hamasaki fit to serve as San Francisco’s top cop?

From tax liens to credit card lawsuits, the district attorney candidate’s personal finances are a mess; plus, an updated district attorney endorsement
Candidates for San Francisco District Attorney: Veronese, Jenkins, and Hamasaki. Photos: Wikimedia Commons

“That ‘if’ is doing a lot of work. Just pay some damn taxes, bro.”
District attorney candidate John Hamasaki to Elon Musk in a since-deleted tweet

Much has been made of former San Francisco police commissioner and current district attorney candidate John Hamasaki’s deletion of nearly 9,000 off-the-rails Twitter posts, but nothing has been said about his personal financial woes, which should definitely be considered when someone is running to be the top cop of a major city. In fact, public records reveal Hamasaki has a long history of not paying his bills. Besides being a harbinger of one’s character, why is this important? Because any person in a position of immense power is susceptible to corruption — and having thousands of dollars in personal debt puts them at even greater risk.

Take for example the 2017 case against Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams, who admitted accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of concealed bribes in exchange for his agreement to perform official acts, and using political action committee funds and official government vehicles for his personal benefit. The indictment alleged that Williams compromised himself and his elected office by using his position to help those willing to secretly pay him with valuable items like money, trips, and cars, as well as defrauding his political action committee and others. 

Then there is the case against Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, who was hit with a federal tax lien in May of this year for failing to pay more than $200,000 to the IRS in 2019. Williams is also facing federal charges that he conspired to inflate business expenses $700,000 to lower his tax burden by $200,000 between 2013 and 2017. The government wants to present evidence dating back to 2002 of Williams’s tax problems, including “delinquencies, late filings, correspondence showing his disputes with the IRS, and a large tax lien placed on Williams’ property.”

Of course, anyone familiar with my writing in the Marina Times knows about the many high-ranking city officials who have been indicted for taking bribes or otherwise abusing their power for personal and financial gain. It’s a story as old as time, but a particularly potent one here in San Francisco, which ranks as one of the most corrupt cities in the nation. If you’ve been sued by credit card companies and have unpaid tax liens to both the state and the federal governments, at the very least a red flag should go up when you run for public office.

THOUSANDS IN CREDIT CARD DEBT 

According to public records, as recently as 2017 Hamasaki has faced several different civil lawsuits, including two that resulted in judgments against him totaling nearly $10,000. Hamasaki was named as a defendant in the following four civil lawsuits, which were filed between 1990 and 2017:

• In May 2017, Hamasaki was sued by Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC for defaulting on $1,219.65 in payments due to Synchrony Bank/Amazon.com. The case was dismissed on May 14, 2018.

• In April 2017, Hamasaki was sued by Capital One Bank for $2,691.99 in damages. In October 2017, the case was settled on conditional terms. Hamasaki agreed to pay the full amount of $2,691.99.

• In July 2000, Hamasaki was sued by First Select, Inc., and in February 2001, ordered to pay a total of $6,592.38 to the company. On Nov. 19, 2008, an acknowledgment that the judgment was satisfied in full was filed with the San Francisco County Superior Court.

• In May 1990, Hamasaki was listed as a defendant along with his father Duco in a lawsuit filed by State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance. The complaint was for $3,143. Two months later, in July 1990, the case was dismissed.

LIENS, LAWSUITS, AND A RESTRAINING ORDER

In August 2019, John Hamasaki and his wife, Hana Azman, were the subjects of a $16,958.29 federal tax lien for unpaid 1040 income taxes for tax years 2016 and 2017. As of today, there was no release on file for the lien with the San Francisco County Recorder’s office.

After declaring his candidacy for district attorney on August 11, 2022, one would think Hamasaki would have taken care of those back taxes. Not only did he not, but almost exactly one month later, on Sept. 14, 2022, the Franchise Tax Board of the State of California filed a $5,554.58 tax lien against him for unpaid taxes in 2018 and 2019.

In November 2016, Hamasaki’s private law firm, Hamasaki Law, was named as a defendant in a complaint filed by Jenny J. Kim, a resident and owner of an apartment unit in San Francisco, who alleged that defendants in the case attempted to reverse the plaintiff’s grant deed and deed of reconveyance for her residence and prevented her from entering her home (Jenny J Kim v. 1856 Franklin Street HOA,  filed Nov. 21, 2016 in the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco). 

The complaint alleged that Hamasaki and other legal counsel involved in the case secretly consulted with the homeowners’ association board and refused to negotiate with Kim in good faith, which resulted in her incurring substantial costs. 

It further alleged that Hamasaki made demands for attorney fees from Kim despite “intentionally faulty legal work,” stating: “On or around August 2016, Hamasaki and Haigh began making demands for attorneys’ fees, despite their intentionally faulty legal work resulting in a civil harassment restraining order being awarded against a completely different individual by the name of Ji Hyun Kim. As of this time, they have not served the restraining order or any pleadings after Sept. 1, 2016, to Plaintiff, however, they continue to contact Plaintiff seeking money.” 

On April 3, 2017, the plaintiff attorneys filed a request for dismissal, asking the clerk to dismiss Hamasaki Law as a defendant in the case, but the allegations are still troubling.

Also troubling is a July 3, 2002 claim for $5,000 Hamasaki filed against defendant Lahela Kahulani Chapman. On Aug. 14, 2002, the court ordered a judgment determining that Chapman didn’t owe any money to Hamasaki, and, on that same day, Chapman filed for a domestic violence restraining order against Hamasaki. Since the exhibits in the $5,000 money claim were ordered destroyed, there is no further information on the case, but as a candidate for one of the most powerful offices in the city — an office that prosecutes domestic abusers and protects their victims — it seems Hamasaki owes his potential constituents an explanation. 

Voters should also carefully consider whether Hamasaki is qualified to create and manage a multimillion-dollar budget for the District Attorney’s Office and be the sole decision maker on how to handle every criminal case in the city when he can’t even pay his own bills. As the would-be district attorney says himself in one of those now infamous deleted tweets, “Gotta love how @latimes leads the post on another criminal cop practically justifying him taking a 30k bribe because he was in danger of losing his home and his credit cards were maxed out . . .” 

UPDATED DISTRICT ATTORNEY ENDORSEMENT: VOTE ONLY BROOKE JENKINS

Personally, I think San Francisco should do away with ranked choice voting — it’s confusing and often leads to a less popular, less qualified candidate winning office. The textbook case for this theory, of course, is former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who barely eked out a win because three moderate competitors canceled each other out. Ranked choice voting also requires voters to be strategic, particularly if there is a candidate like Hamasaki running. His admiration for Boudin, financial woes, and the fact he has zero experience as a prosecutor are enough to count him out, but those nearly 9,000 deleted tweets are a window into Hamasaki’s mind that cannot and should not be ignored. He advocated for gangs to keep their illegal weapons as “protection,” displayed pure disdain for law enforcement on a daily basis, said cops and district attorneys were one and the same and should both be defunded, and referred to incumbent Brooke Jenkins as an insurrectionist. In fact, Hamasaki is the least-qualified person ever to run for public office in the two decades I have covered San Francisco elections — and if you look at City Hall, both past and present, you know that’s saying a lot. 

Originally, I endorsed Jenkins as my number one candidate and Joe Alioto Veronese as number two, despite his lack of prosecutorial skills, mostly to keep Hamasaki from pulling a Boudin. But recently, Veronese has ramped up his misogynistic, bullying behavior, resulting in the removal of my secondary endorsement. He has joined Hamasaki in attacking Jenkins not on her record but personally, chiding her for leaving a debate where an organized group of Hamasaki supporters shouted over her and wouldn’t let her speak, his wealthy, white male privilege on full display as he dismissed Jenkins saying she didn’t feel safe. Veronese also tweeted that Jenkins — who is Black and Latina — was afraid of the protesting African Americans at S.F. State, which he punctuated with #CowardlyMove.

Veronese also joined Hamasaki in promoting a politically motivated California State Bar complaint written by 94-year-old retired Los Angeles judge Martha Goldin who, along with her daughter Laura, donated the maximum to both Boudin’s and Hamasaki’s campaigns. Goldin’s long-winded diatribe stems from a 2014 case and, like most State Bar complaints, will probably never be investigated, not only because it’s meritless, but also because it’s a publicity stunt to distract from Hamasaki being a terrible candidate. The State Bar considers complaints confidential, but that didn’t stop the Goldins from pushing it out through the Wren Collective, a far-left public relations firm run by none other than Boudin’s former chief of staff Kate Chatfield. Seeing Veronese and his family, including his mother, Angela, attack Jenkins turned me off (and a lot of other people if you read the Twitter comments). It’s sad Veronese and his family don’t realize they are tarnishing their once politically prestigious name. 

For an extended version of this column and more exclusive content, sign up for Susan’s free newsletter susanreynolds.substack.com.

Follow Susan and the Marina Times on Twitter: @SusanDReynolds and @TheMarinaTimes.

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