Late last week Eugene Yu sued Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón and his office over alleged civil rights violations and negligence during what LA Times reporters James Queally and Sarah D. Wire called a “bungled prosecution”; see “L.A. County D.A. sued over prosecution allegedly sparked by election conspiracy theories”. Yu’s lawsuit alleges that the prosecution cost his small election-software firm about $80 million in lost business and subjected his family to death threats and other attacks.
This lawsuit connects to both MAGA election denial and LA’s progressive district attorney, but not in a way you might expect.
Yu’s arrest in October 2022
Last October, Yu was arrested by Los Angeles County officials on suspicion of possible theft of personal identifying information of election workers. In announcing the arrest, Gascón said “I want to thank my prosecutors and investigators for their commitment to eliminating cyber intrusions … security in all aspects of any election is essential so that we all have full faith in the integrity of the election process.”
The arrest came after months of disinformation by True the Vote and other right-wing election deniers, alleging that Yu’s software company Konnech worked with Chinese Communists to subvert US elections. Conservative social media platforms jumped on the arrest’s announcement, with Trump and other election deniers saying things like “another election integrity ‘conspiracy theory’ confirmed” — even though the arrest announcement said that Konnech’s software managed only data about election workers, not about the votes themselves.
Gascón’s office filed charges against Yu a week after his arrest, alleging conspiracy and embezzlement of public funds, on the grounds that Konnech’s contract with LA County said that data would stay in the US but that some data went to China. The felony complaint was signed by DA office investigator Andrew Stevens and Deputy DA Eric Neff. Gascón’s office even sought to hold the 65-year-old Yu without bail in Los Angeles, thousands of miles away from his home in Michigan, arguing (without evidence and implausibly) that the “data breach” was among the largest in US history.
The case against Yu collapses
The case against Yu quickly began to collapse. Although the DA’s office initially denied that True the Vote was involved, it soon emerged that it arose from a “tip” from True the Vote’s cofounder Gregg Phillips, that Phillips had testified before a grand jury, and that Phillips’s “tip” had been reviewed by the FBI and by several state attorneys general with no charges filed.
Eventually it emerged that in August 2022 an LA County DA office investigator had attended an invitation-only True the Vote event called “The Pit”, which trumpeted false allegations against Yu and Konnech. Opening remarks in The Pit were given by Kari Lake, the Arizona conspiracy theorist and failed governor candidate, and attendees were led in a prayer asking God to extinguish “this Marxist spirit, this communist spirit that’s trying to destroy our nation and destroy our families” and hoping that Yu and other targets of True the Vote’s attacks “would hang on the own gallows that they built.”
The case against Yu completely fell apart soon after Yu moved to dismiss it. Gascón quietly dropped the case on November 9, 2022, and his office placed Deputy DA Eric Neff on administrative leave and shuffled its organization chart, bringing its Public Integrity Division (which Neff had been part of) under control of Gascón’s chief of staff Joseph Iniguez.
The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office did not cancel its contract with Konnech, saying that there was never any evidence of wrongdoing.
LA County taxpayers and Gascón’s reelection
It appears that Gascón was taken for a ride, and that his deputy Eric Neff and investigator Stevens were led astray (or worse) by right-wing disinformation. Gascón’s office has nearly a thousand deputy DAs and its org chart is too large to be displayed clearly here, so it’s not surprising that a deputy DA would need to be disciplined now and then. Still, this is a bad look for Gascón, and LA County taxpayers and residents will take the hit if millions of LA County dollars flow to a damaged election company rather than to health, sanitation, public protection, and other things that LA County needs.
As reported here in March, Gascón faces fierce opposition by conservatives, who almost got enough signatures to force a recall election — something still being litigated, which means it’s conceivable that Gascón will both be recalled and win his primary in the same March 2024 election. At least three of Gascón’s deputy DAs are running on the right against him in next year’s election. Nathan Hochman, who served for a year as US Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division under George W. Bush, is also running to Gascón’s right.
We’ll see whether these more-conservative candidates bring up the botched Yu case. Although Trump won only 27% of LA County in 2020, this 27% could be crucial in the March 2024 primary for LA County DA. Many of the conservatives’ election-denial supporters surely assume that Yu must be guilty because although Yu is a naturalized US citizen, he was born in China. And it would be right in the MAGA wheelhouse to broadcast further disinformation about Yu and about the DA office’s bungled prosecution. Progressives may well need to get the word out that the case against Yu fell apart because it was MAGA-inspired, and that the American court system, slow and flawed as it too often is, is still generally kryptonite to MAGA disinformation.