Charges against Keith Jackson come as surprise to some, not others 

click to enlarge Leland Yee
  • Rich Pedroncelli/AP
  • An FBI agent wheels boxes from the Sacramento office of state Sen. Leland Yee on Wednesday. Dozens of others were arrested in the corruption probe, including former school board member Keith Jackson.
Shock and disbelief was the collective response Thursday on the day after the arrest of Keith Jackson — a political consultant, community activist and former school board member — on serious felony charges linked to a massive federal investigation into public corruption, firearms trafficking, murder plots and drug dealing.

But for at least one person who once worked with the 49-year-old San Francisco resident, some of the accusations came as no surprise.

Jackson is one of the men at the center of the FBI sweep that resulted in 26 arrests this week, including Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee.

While Jackson remains in custody, he is by many accounts an honest, well-respected and generous member of the community.

Jackson’s tenure in San Francisco affairs includes a stint on the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, consulting on the redevelopment of the Hunters Point Naval shipyard and Candlestick Point, aiding political campaigns, and volunteering with The City’s disadvantaged seniors and youths.

But that’s not the picture painted of Jackson in a 137-page affidavit unsealed Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The FBI accuses him of being involved in a murder-for-hire scheme and trafficking guns and drugs, among other charges.

Sululagi Palega, a longtime friend of Jackson’s, said he’d be “very surprised” if the allegations against Jackson prove to be true. The two met while volunteering for various community organizations in the Western Addition and Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods.

Palega said he’s always known Jackson to be generous, and that for the past five or so years they’ve helped distribute turkeys to senior citizens together over the holidays.

“He always cared about people,” Palega said. “I don’t know where all this other stuff went wrong. He’s always been an advocate for the disadvantaged.”

Jill Wynns, a Board of Education member since 1993, served with both Jackson and Yee in the 1990s. She also expressed surprise at the gun-related charges that both Jackson and Yee face, but said the corruption charges were less astonishing.

“Of course I’m shocked, especially the ones about gun trafficking and murder-for-hire,” Wynns said of the charges. “The pay-to-play and influence peddling sadly and unfortunately are not really a surprise to me.”

While on the board, Jackson reportedly “spent a lot of time working with and for people who [were] seeking contracts with the school district,” Wynns said. She added that Jackson would introduce them to the district superintendent, which Wynns felt was inappropriate.

Jackson began serving on the board in 1995. He was up for re-election in November 1998, but resigned in June of that year to take a job with The City.

In 2008, Jackson reportedly started his own consulting group called Jackson Consultancy and was retained by Lennar Urban, a division of the national homebuilding giant Lennar Corp. that’s involved in the redevelopment of the Hunters Point shipyard and Candlestick Point.

Jackson, one of a number of consultants retained by Lennar Urban, reportedly helped serve as the liaison between the company and the Bayview-Hunters Point community.

Lennar Urban had suspended its interactions with Jackson’s company as of Wednesday.

“Like many people, we were completely shocked to learn of the allegations concerning Mr. Jackson,” the company said in a statement.

According to the criminal complaint, Jackson was introduced to an undercover FBI agent by notorious Chinatown gang leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow for consulting work while Chow was under investigation by the FBI. Chow has also been arrested in connection with the alleged web of money laundering, firearms trafficking, murder-for-hire and drug distribution.

Jackson is due back in federal court Tuesday for a detention hearing. His attorney Randall Knox declined to discuss the case Thursday.

Jackson’s son Brandon, 28, also was taken into custody on Wednesday in Connecticut and faces similar charges.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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