'Just like the mob': District attorney investigates 'shakedowns' and 'threats' in SF's Chinatown

Boudin says the businesses receive demands for money, as much as $75,000, with the threat of a lawsuit.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Claims of possible 'shakedowns' and 'threats' are being investigated in San Francisco's Chinatown, where business owners have received letters threatening lawsuits.

District Attorney Chesa Boudin says the letters claim the businesses don't meet ADA disability requirements and often demand money with the threat of a lawsuit. His office has two investigators working to determine if they are fraudulent.

"They come in and it's just like the mob," says Hene Kelly, who is Vice President of the California Alliance for retired Americans.

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"If you don't pay us, the mob would say 'we'll break up your whole store.' This is, 'if you don't pay us and play with us, we will take your place away from you,'" says Kelly.

Far East Cafe is one of the businesses that received a letter claiming they were not in compliance with ADA disability regulations, and then a letter demanding money, with the alternative being a lawsuit.

Merchant representatives in Chinatown say there have been dozens of cases like this and Boudin says the demands are high.

"Right as they reopen they are getting hit with demands for, in many cases $75,000," says Boudin.

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The DA says his office is opening an investigation into these allegations to see if ADA laws are being abused for others to make money off of businesses, many of which are in older Chinatown buildings.

"Many businesses do their best to meet the requirement, but are limited by the buildings sizes," says President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Eddie Au.

"They are exploiting and extorting small businesses, not to vindicate the critical rights or inclusion of the disabled, but rather to shakedown and extort those who are already suffering in the wake of a horrific pandemic and a wave of anti-Asian and anti-Chinese hate across this country. We stand with our Chinese community, we stand with our disability advocates," says Boudin.

Anyone who believes they have been victimized by fraud should reach out to the District Attorney's Consumer Protection and Fraud hotline at 628-652-4311.

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