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Whistleblower: LA DA Illegally Dropped Charges Against CEO of China-Linked Election Software Firm

A Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County DA George Gascón’s office has filed a claim alleging that Gascón retaliated against him after he objected to Gascón dropping criminal charges against the CEO of a China-linked election software company for political reasons.

In his claim, DDA Eric Neff states that criminal charges against Konnech CEO Eugene Yu were illegally dropped once Gascón realized that the prosecution could help Donald Trump politically and that it would validate the election security concerns of many on the right. Neff’s claim contains disturbing new information about the investigation and its findings that show the charges never should have been dropped.

Yu was arrested on October 4, 2022, and Gascón himself held a press conference to gleefully announce Yu’s arrest “in connection with the theft of personal data of Los Angeles County election workers.” The Complaint alleged that Konnech illegally stored the personal identifying information of LA County poll workers on servers in China and used contractors in China on the project.

Although Konnech’s software doesn’t have anything to do with tabulating votes, the arrest made waves because it validated the election security concerns of many on the right, as opposed to vociferous claims by Democrats that the United States’ computer-based election infrastructure is totally and unquestionably secure.

As we reported at the time, Gascón’s office quietly dismissed all charges against Yu on November 10, 2022, claiming there was “potential bias” in the investigation and insinuating that the lead prosecutor, Deputy DA Eric Neff, was an election denier who ignored normal protocols in his investigation. A week later Gascón placed Neff on administrative leave; anonymous sources within Gascón’s office leaked that confidential personnel information to the LA Times and said the suspension was due to “his role in the questionable prosecution of a Michigan software executive that may have been sparked by conspiracy theorists who deny the validity of the 2020 presidential election.”

Let’s go through Neff’s retaliation claim, which shows an entirely different picture of what happened.

Immediately after Yu’s October 4 arrest “far-right” people like Donald Trump and Charlie Kirk cheered the prosecution and praised Gascón, and stories about the charges incorrectly claimed that the prosecution was somehow linked to voting fraud (Konnech’s software is entirely separate from election ballot software and solely relates to employee management of poll workers). In Gascón’s mind, he was now politically linked with Donald Trump and Charlie Kirk, and that wasn’t something Gascón wanted.

Still, the investigation and case management continued in preparation for Yu’s first appearance on October 14. Neff’s claim states:

DAIs [District Attorney Investigators] recovered several explosive pieces of evidence in the form of electronic communications as well as one cooperating witness – an employee with knowledge of the company’s facially inadequate practices and procedures. . . . Konnech was sending sensitive PII data to Chinese owned and operated third-party contractors through Chinese-owned and operated messaging applications.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation and its findings told RedState that the PII data sent out of the country included Social Security numbers of all election employees and even the information of high school students who were working at the polls through the county’s Student Election Worker Program, and that those employees and student workers haven’t been properly informed of the data breach.

In contrast with statements from high-ranking people in Gascón’s office at the time, Neff wasn’t a lone wolf out there ignoring protocol in preparing the case. The felony complaint against Yu was filed on October 13 after a thorough review by Neff’s chain of command, he says:

Between October 6, 2022, to October 12, 2022, Mr. Neffs entire chain of command from the DA’s Office – no less than four management-level prosecutors thoroughly reviewed the investigation and evidence against Mr. Yu. Ultimately, this case was reviewed by the highest ranking non-elected prosecutor in the office, Chief Deputy District Attorney Sharon Woo – who approved the filing of a criminal complaint against Mr. Yu.

After Yu’s courtroom appearance on October 14 and the publishing of the felony complaint and arrest warrant the publicity around the case grew, as did Gascón’s concern about political ramifications. Neff’s claim continues:

On or about October 17, 2022, DA Gascón was overwhelmingly concerned that since he had inadvertently gained Mr. Trump’s (and the far-right wing, election deniers) support, the outlook of such support by prosecuting Mr. Yu would impact his stance and popularity politically. As such, Mr. Gascón, through his subordinate chain-of-command (Ms. Tiffiny Blacknell, Ms. Sharon Woo, and Mr. Joseph Iniquez), ordered Mr. Neff to be second chair and tasked DDA III Luke Sisak (“Mr. Sisak”) from Cyber Crimes to supervise Mr. Neff in the prosecution of Mr. Yu.

Yu’s defense attorney then scheduled a demurrer hearing for November 10, and Neff drafted and filed the prosecution’s opposition to the demurrer, listing “the many facial legal and factual problems with Mr. Yu’s demurrer motion and forcefully argu[ing] for its denial.”

But when Neff got to court on November 10, everything changed:

On November 10, 2022, prior to the demurrer hearing in court, Mr. Sisak met with Mr. Neff and informed him that management from the DA’s Office had ordered the case to be dismissed. Neff verbally complained to Mr. Sisak that there was no legal basis for the dismissal and that no one informed him of the dismissal prior to that morning. More importantly, Mr. Neff objected to the dismissal because he had reasonable cause to believe that his participation in the dismissal was against the law. It was a politically based dismissal not in furtherance of justice.

The case was not being dismissed to examine or re-examine digital evidence, or to ensure there was no bias in its presentation. In other words, Gascón ordered that his office perpetrate a fraud upon the court. Neff outlines his issues with the dismissal in his claim:

1. The unlawful dismissal would run afoul of Penal Code section 1386, which provides that once a prosecution has been initiated, “neither the Attorney General nor the district attorney can discontinue or abandon a prosecution for a public offense” without permission of the Court.

2. In addition, while the scope of prosecutorial discretion is broad, a DDA must perform certain ministerial and mandatory duties in exercising its discretion. Under Government Code section 26500, “The district attorney is the public prosecutor, except as otherwise provided by law. The public prosecutor shall attend the courts, and within his or her discretion shall initiate and conduct on behalf of the people all prosecutions for public offenses.”

3. The motivating reasons for the dismissal of Mr. Yu’s prosecution were for Mr. Gascon’s political gain. This made the dismissal self-serving and not in furtherance of justice, as required by Penal Code section 1385(a). There would be a fraud upon the court (violation of California Prof. Rule of Conduct, rule 3.3 and rule 3.8) for the representation and misrepresentation of the real reasons behind the dismissal because it was politically motivated and the reasons for such dismissal must be reflected in the court’s minute orders. Clearly, any kind of representation would be a misrepresentation of the real reason why this case is being dismissed.

With Neff unwilling to participate in the dismissal, Assistant Head Deputy Bjorn Dodd was tasked with appearing in court to dismiss the case.

Then the retaliation started.

Neff states that he presented his complaints with the dismissal in writing on November 14, 2022, and on November 16 he was placed on administrative leave “pending an investigation” into misconduct. Startlingly, that investigation continued through March 20, 2024. Coincidentally, that’s about two months after LA County approved a $5 million settlement to Eugene Yu for civil rights violations and negligence, and a few weeks after the March primary election, in which Gascón earned a spot in the top two (so he’ll be on the ballot in November). No evidence of misconduct was found, and Neff was informed that no disciplinary action would be taken against him. However, Neff was still retaliated against; when he returned to work on April 4 Neff was informed that he had essentially been demoted, reassigned from the prestigious Public Integrity Division to the Welfare Fraud Unit, known as the unit DDAs are sent to as punishment.

Neff’s complaint states that copies of the servers seized from Yu are required to remain in the custody of the DAI’s, so if that has been done, and if the data hasn’t been compromised, they could theoretically still be examined and criminal charges possibly refiled (since they were dismissed without prejudice and the statute of limitations hasn’t yet run). We will be keeping an eye on this case as it proceeds.

In addition, we are investigating allegations that the $5 million settlement to Yu did not go through the appropriate county claims process, and that county counsel did not vigorously represent taxpayer interests in the case by failing to even assert prosecutorial immunity as a defense.

Read Neff’s entire complaint below.

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