Lodi Councilmember Shakir Khan says he was coerced into resigning

By Wes Bowers | Lodi News-Sentinel

Despite an attorney’s claims that his client was coerced into stepping down from his elected position, the City of Lodi said Friday morning that it has accepted Councilman Shakir Khan’s resignation from public office.

Khan was arrested at his Heritage District home Thursday morning on more than a dozen charges of voter fraud related to the 2020 election and booked into San Joaquin County Jail.

In a video posted to the city’s Facebook page, Lodi Mayor Mikey Hothi said he visited Khan at the jail on Thursday afternoon and asked for Khan’s resignation.

Hothi drafted a hand-written letter of resignation signed by himself and Khan, which was later received and stamped by the Lodi City Clerk.

Moments after the video was posted, Khan’s attorney Allen Sawyer emailed the News-Sentinel and said his client was not resigning.

Sawyer told various media outlets Thursday night that his client was coerced into resigning.

The city provided a copy of the letter both Hothi and Khan signed, which reads “Mayor Mikey Hothi & Shak Khan have spoken & believe the best course of action at this time is for Shak Khan to resign, effective immediately. He plans to fight the charges against him and clear his name.”

Hothi told the News-Sentinel that Khan contacted him by phone shortly after their meeting and rescinded his resignation.

But Mary Campbell, spokeswoman for the city, said the agency had accepted the resignation Thursday night, and was working with legal counsel to discuss its options moving forward.

Khan had been removed from the City Council page on the www.lodi.gov website. The text “Resignation received February 16, 2023” has replaced his photograph.

Mary-Beth Moylan, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Experiential Learning at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, is a founder of the Global Lawyering Skills program at the school that covers a broad range of lawyering skills, including client interviewing and counseling.

She said Sawyer’s assertion that his client was under duress may be valid.

“It’s not really a situation — when one is under duress, they’re in county jail, with officers present and the mayor comes in and tells you to resign — where someone could be in a position to make a proper decision,” she said.

Moylan added that the document Khan signed was not the typical letter of resignation someone in public office would submit.

“Usually when someone voluntarily resigns, they type up a letter explaining the reasoning for their departure,” she said. “By the mayor putting their name on a letter suggests the idea that this resignation was initiated by the mayor, and not the individual resigning.”

Sawyer told media outlets Thursday that if the city of Lodi removed his client from the council, he would take legal action.

Moylan said the argument as to whether Khan signed under duress or not could ultimately be decided by a judge.

“It seems like an effort to not go through the city’s legal process to discipline a member of the city council,” she said. “There are plenty of allegations against Mr. Khan to support his removal from the council, but there should be a process so (the city) can make a finding that there was a violation of his office.”

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office arrested Khan on suspicion of 14 felony counts, including causing or procuring false voter registration, submission of fraudulent registration to the Secretary of State,

Sheriff Pat Withrow said during a Thursday news conference that the election fraud investigation came to his department’s attention while they were looking into existing illegal gambling, tax evasion and Employment Development Department fraud charges against Khan in 2019.

During that investigation, deputies served a search warrant at Khan’s home to determine if he was storing any equipment used in his alleged illegal gambling operation.

Instead, they found 41 sealed and completed mail-in ballots.

Deputies had no reason to believe a crime was being committed, so they photographed the ballots and left them with Khan, who ended up winning his bid for Lodi City Council.

Last year, a citizen investigating voter rolls at the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voter’s Office on an unrelated case alerted the Sheriff’s Office to irregularities tied to Khan’s address.

Deputies found 70 names on the voter rolls were registered to Khan’s address, email or cellular phone, and realized the 41 mail-in ballots were most likely part of that list.

Further investigation found Khan allegedly intimidated Lodi District 4 residents — all of whom are members of the city’s Pakistani community — into voting for him.

He allegedly had many of them sign mail-in ballots that he filled out and registered many of them to vote using his personal email address and cellular phone, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

In addition, investigators allege Khan forged several signatures on his nomination papers needed to run for City Council.

Deputies also said that once Khan learned they were canvassing District 4, he posted a video to social media urging his constituents in his native language of Urdu to tell investigators that they had completed the ballots themselves.

Khan appeared in San Joaquin County Superior Court for arraignment on the election fraud charges Thursday afternoon and was released on his own recognizance.

He returns to court on Feb. 21 for arraignment regarding his existing 2019 charges.

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