Northeast developers eyed in campaign finance probe


The entrance to 300 Morse St. NE, which is owned by the family of Sang Oh Choi, seen in 2006. The Choi family had tried to redevelop the area before the 2008 recession. (Len Spoden/For The Washington Post)

Federal investigators appear to have opened a new front in their probe of campaign finance matters in the District.

Two persons familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to its sensitivity said prosecutors have issued subpoenas seeking campaign finance records to members of the Choi family, who own properties in the wholesale market area north of Florida Avenue NE and have sought to redevelop them in recent years.

The family, most prominently Sang Oh Choi, have had long political ties to D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), dating back to his two terms representing Ward 5.

Campaign finance records show $18,500 in donations to Orange’s campaigns from members of the Choi family and their businesses dating back to 2002. Those persons and entities have given at least another $15,000 to other D.C. candidates.

Orange acknowledged Tuesday that federal investigators had recently requested, and he had provided, records pertaining to his campaigns. He declined to say whether the documents were provided in response to a subpoena, but the two persons familiar with the case said they had been.

WUSA-TV reported earlier Wednesday on the existence of subpoenas issued to “some Ward 5 businessmen.”

A. Scott Bolden, an attorney representing the Chois, confirmed the subpoenas but declined to discuss what they sought.

Orange was admonished by a city ethics board last month after intervening last December when health inspectors attempted to close Sam Wang Produce, a Choi-owned business in the Florida Avenue market, for a rat infestation.

Orange, who was found to have “knowingly used the prestige of his office …  for the private gain of that business,” agreed to attend ethics training to settle the matter.

He did not respond to a phone message Wednesday night seeking comment on the Choi subpoenas. His council office did issue a statement reiterating his cooperation with the federal probe, which he characterized as a “due diligence investigation.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · June 12, 2013