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Pleasant stated that an e-mail from Ali showed that he feared prosecutors would go harder on his daughter if his alleged bribe attempt hit the newspapers, which might force the D.A. to take a tougher public stance against Askew.
Pleasant quoted Ali’s group e-mail to several acquaintances and reporters, including me: “I trust you with my daughter’s life and ask that you not hurt her or me. So if you’re in the media and on this list of friends, this info is off the record.”
That was an unusual stance for the outspoken Ali. He spoke out against Jesse Jackson’s use of the “N” word, R. Kelly’s dalliances with underaged girls and hate crimes by a group of black teenagers against white teenagers beaten on Halloween 2006 in Long Beach. And Ali tangled with the city’s black old guard, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and wealthy Sentinel publisher Danny Bakewell Sr.
In recent times, Ali has criticized politicians for refusing to condemn an alleged plot by a Mexican Mafia prison gang to kill blacks — which was how Ali crossed paths with Deputy District Attorney Anthony Manzella, in an article I wrote for City Beatabout the Mexican Mafia in March 2008.
Manzella has helped to convict drug smugglers and mafia kingpins and is extensively profiled by author Tony Rafael in The Mexican Mafia. In April, Ali asked me if I had a phone number for Manzella. I contacted Manzella for his permission to provide it, and Manzella replied, “Sure.”
Weeks later, Manzella made a number of statements that appeared to shed light on the attitude toward Ali inside the office of the District Attorney. Manzella called me and stated the following, on the record: “Why did you give my phone number to a convicted felon, black hustler, con man ...” Shouting, he said Ali had asked him “to violate the law, to do something that would cost my badge ... He asked me to speak to the D.A. in his case. I could go to prison for that. ... I can’t help him and he had no right to ask. We’re not allowed to go into each other’s files.”
Manzella said that deputy D.A. Theresa Sullivan wanted to send Ali “to state prison for nine years” for violating the terms of his parole on a hit-and-run case from 2004.
Then, on June 22, at 11 a.m., Manzella e-mailed me: “What was the name of that black guy who conned you into giving him my cell number? I want to make a note of it to see what happens on his parole violation.”
In an e-mail, I pointed out that nobody had “conned” me, but Manzella insisted that I was attempting to change his “perception of the event” — and warned me that, “If this goes much further, I will be compelled to contact the [deputy] D.A. on the case to report Ali’s attempt to improperly influence the outcome of his hearing.” (I reported Manzella’s comments to District Attorney Steve Cooley’s office the next day. I’ve yet to hear back.)
Was Najee Ali, sentenced to four years for bribery, hit harder than the average man by the District Attorney, because of who he is?
Looking back, “The sentence is overkill, to say the least,” argues political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson. “It was driven by who he is, an African-American activist, and politics. Najee made the wrong kind of enemies, and many are politically influential. But the larger point is, [I have] worked with him and known him over 10 years. There were times he was terribly wrong, and times when he was terribly right. But many times he was the only one who was willing to speak out.”