San Francisco investigation leading to entrapment claims


By Paul Elias , AP

SAN FRANCISCO–The FBI used millions of dollars, liquor and cigarettes seized in other cases and more than a dozen undercover operatives in an elaborate, seven-year sting operation targeting a San Francisco Chinatown association thought to be a front for a notorious organized crime syndicate.

The agents, posing as businessmen and a Mafia figure, aggressively offered their targets criminal schemes, leading to the indictment of 29 people — including state Sen. Leland Yee — on charges that included money laundering, public corruption and gun trafficking.

The agents’ behavior has become a central issue in the case, with defense lawyers arguing that the FBI entrapped otherwise honest people.

It’s an argument numerous suspected terrorists, politicians and others have made when caught in a government sting.

But legal experts say the entrapment defense rarely works. Sting targets have to prove much more than simply the government made them do it. They have to show they weren’t predisposed to committing the criminal acts proposed by undercover agents.

Several high-profile terrorism suspects in recent months have argued they were set up by undercover agents who played central roles in helping them plan U.S. attacks that they otherwise never would have intended to carry out.

In January 2013, jurors in Oregon rejected Mohamed Mohamud’s claims that the FBI was at fault for him trying to set off a bomb during a 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony attended by thousands of people. The bomb, supplied by the agents, was a fake.

In December, a federal appeals court rejected Mohanad Shareef Hammadi’s claims that he was entrapped when he unwittingly worked with a government informant to ship thousands of dollars in cash, machine guns, rifles, grenades and shoulder-fired