The elder Cheng, a D.C. restaurateur and leader in the Chinatown community, has been a frequent fundraiser for local politicians at his namesake restaurants, Tony Cheng’s Mongolian and Tony Cheng’s Seafood on H Street NW.
“That’s not bribes — that’s legitimate business,” said the Alexandria resident’s attorney, Ken Robinson. “He’s worked hard for 40 years and built a big reputation in Chinatown and in Washington. He’s a good man, and he’s not going to take any offer. We’re very confident he’ll be okay.”
Cheng has a wide range of business interests, including operating bus lines and a company that is one of the largest producers of wholesale Asian pears in the country. In November 2010, he and his son wanted to get into the taxi business, but there was a citywide moratorium on new operating licenses, according to the 10-page indictment.
The Chengs allegedly enlisted the help of two people they thought were public officials to backdate licensing documents and building certificates. They made it look as if the two companies — Green Top Cab and ECO CAB — had existed since 2009 and were each worth more than $1.1 million, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The charges against Cheng and his son are the latest developments in a series of investigations by the U.S. attorney’s office for the District involving city government officials and influential local businessmen. Tuesday’s indictment does not appear to involve any elected officials, but it shows Machen’s willingness to take on some of the most well-connected players in D.C. politics.
“We cannot tolerate the culture of pay-to-play,” Machen said in a statement.
In 2000, the elder Cheng was honored by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who proclaimed a Tony Cheng Day. In 2012, Cheng was among dozens on a host committee for a birthday celebration for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and fundraiser for a constituent-services fund. In January, the mayor picked him as one of the city’s elite invited to sit in a viewing stand at the John A. Wilson Building for the presidential inaugural parade.
Among the beneficiaries of Cheng’s campaign cash have been mayors Williams, Gray and Adrian M. Fenty (D) as well as D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).
Robinson said federal authorities have been trying since January to get his client to cooperate in a broader public-corruption investigation. Machen’s office is also investigating the mayor’s 2010 campaign, and court documents show that a grand jury is investigating a former major city contractor and fundraiser, Jeffrey E. Thompson. No charges have been filed against Gray or Thompson.