3/26/14, "State Sen. Leland Yee indicted on arms trafficking, corruption charges," Mercury News, by Josh Richman, Howard Mintz, Jessica Calefati and Robert Salonga
stunning criminal complaint, State Sen. Leland Yee has been charged with
conspiring to traffic in firearms and public corruption as part of a
major FBI operation spanning the Bay Area, casting yet another cloud of
corruption over the Democratic establishment in the Legislature and
torpedoing Yee's aspirations for statewide office.
Yee and an
intermediary allegedly met repeatedly with an undercover FBI agent,
soliciting campaign contributions in exchange for setting up a deal with
international arms dealers.
At their first face-to-face meeting
in January, "Senator Yee explained he has known the arms dealer for a
number of years and has developed a close relationship with him," an FBI
affidavit says, noting Yee told the agent the arms dealer "has things
that you guys want."
Yee, D-San Francisco,
highlights a series of arrests Wednesday morning that included infamous
Chinatown gangster Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, whose past includes a
variety of charges including racketeering and drug crimes. Targets of
the early-morning raids appeared in federal court in San Francisco on
A 137-page criminal complaint charges 26
people -- including Yee and Chow -- with a panoply of crimes, including
firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug
distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, and honest services
Yee is charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms
without a license and to illegally import firearms, as well as six
counts of scheming to defraud citizens of honest services. Each
corruption count is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a
fine of up to $250,000, while the gun-trafficking count is punishable
by up to five years and $250,000.
The charges are particularly
shocking given that Yee has been among the state Senate's most outspoken
advocates both of gun control and of good-government initiatives.
seems like nobody knew this was coming, and everyone is astounded by
the allegations," said Corey Cook, director of the University of San
Francisco's Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common
Good. "I'm just astonished...Political corruption is one thing, but
this is a whole other level."
San Francisco political consultant
Keith Jackson, a former school-board president, allegedly was the link
between Yee and Chow, who federal prosecutors say is the current
"Dragonhead," or leader, of the San Francisco-based Ghee Kung Tong
organization, spelled in court documents as Chee Kung Tong.
introduced an undercover agent who had infiltrated his organization to
Jackson, who with his son, Brandon Jackson, and another man, Marlon
Sullivan, allegedly sold the agent various guns and bulletproof vests.
The Jacksons and Sullivan also allegedly conspired in a murder-for-hire
scheme requested by the undercover agent, as well as other crimes
including sale of stolen credit cards and purchase of cocaine.
FBI affidavit says Keith Jackson starting last August told one of the
undercover agents that Yee was "associated with a person who was an
international arms dealer who was shipping large stockpiles of weapons
into a foreign country." At later meetings in August and December,
Jackson said Yee had agreed to help set up an arms deal; the agent first
gave Jackson $1,000 cash for his help, and later cut a $5,000 check
from a bogus company to Yee's campaign.
Finally, Yee and Keith Jackson met Jan. 22 with the undercover agents at a San Francisco coffee shop, the affidavit says.
to Senator Yee, the arms dealer is 'low-key' and has been trafficking
weapons for quite a while," the document says. "According to Senator
Yee, the arms dealer sourced the weapons from Russia."
Yee said of the arms dealer, 'He's going to rely on me, because
ultimately it's going to be me,'" the affidavit says. "Senator Yee said,
'I know what he could do. I have seen what he has done in the past on
other products and this guy has the relationships.' Senator Yee
emphasized that the arms dealer took baby steps and was very careful."
Yee told the agent that
the arms dealer had contacts in Russia, Ukraine, Boston and Southern
California, the affidavit says, and the agent asked Yee for a
commitment. "Senator Yee said, 'Do I think we can make some money? I
think we can make some money. Do I think we can get the goods? I think
we can get the goods.'"
The agent told Yee and Jackson he wanted
any type of shoulder-fired weapons or missiles, the affidavit says; Yee
asked whether he wanted automatic weapons, and the agent confirmed he
did -- about $500,000 to $2.5 million worth. Yee told the agent "he saw
their relationship as tremendously beneficial," the affidavit says,
adding he wanted the agent and Jackson to make all the money because he
didn't want to go to jail. The agent replied he would pay Yee and
Jackson hundreds of thousands of dollars over time, and more immediately
would pay $100,000 for the first arms deal. "Senator Yee said 'Alright,
take care.' The meeting ended."
But by their next meeting on Feb.
25, Yee had grown spooked by the federal indictment of state Sen.
Ronald Calderon; the two shared a desk on the Senate floor. "Senator Yee
thought the other state Senator was a classic example of involving too
many people in illegal activities," the affidavit says. Pressured by the
agent to arrange an arms deal, Yee encouraged the agent "to start off
doing small deals with the arms dealer" with Yee as an intermediary.
Yee stated he was unhappy with his life and said, 'There is a part of
me that wants to be like you. You know how I'm going to be like you?
Just be a free-agent out there,'" the affidavit says, adding Yee told
the agent "he wanted to hide out in the Philippines."
met again with Yee on March 5, and Yee discussed a new potential arms
dealer named Wilson Lim. The agent said his family in New Jersey wanted
to support Yee's bid for Secretary of State, to which Yee responded, "I
can be of help to you for 10 months or I can be of help to you for eight
years. I think eight years is a lot better than 10 months."
discussed specific locations in the Philippines and Florida that might
be ideal for moving the guns, which he said would include M-16-type
Yee, Jackson, Lim and the agent met again March
11; Yee said the arms deal wouldn't be done until after this year's
elections. "Senator Yee explained, 'Once things start to move, it's
going to attract attention. We just got to be extra-extra careful.'"
they all met March 14, where they discussed how they would break up the
undercover agent's money into legitimate campaign donations. The agent
told Yee he was prepared to give Yee $6,800 cash and a list of weapons
he wanted; Yee replied "he would take the cash and have one of his
children write out a check."
Yee ran for mayor of San Francisco in
2011 and now is a candidate for California Secretary of State. But the
criminal complaint likely ruins his candidacy and further threatens
Democrats' efforts to restore their state Senate supermajority that
already has been broken by two other lawmakers' paid leaves of absence
to deal with criminal charges.
Keith Jackson and Yee from 2011
until now allegedly solicited donations from undercover FBI agents in
exchange for official acts and conspired to traffic firearms, the
complaint says. Starting in May 2011, Jackson solicited an undercover
FBI agent to give money to Yee's mayoral campaign, including asking the
agent for donations in excess of the $500 individual donation limit. The
agent refused, but introduced Jackson and Yee to a purported business
associate -- another undercover agent -- who they also solicited for at
Yee's mayoral election loss left him with $70,000 in
debt, the complaint says, and so Yee and Jackson allegedly agreed that
Yee would call a California Department of Public Health manager in
support of a contract under consideration with the second undercover
agent's purported client, and would provide an official letter of
support for the client, in exchange for a $10,000 campaign donation. Yee
allegedly made the call on Oct. 18, 2012, and provided the letter on or
about Jan. 13, 2013; Jackson allegedly accepted the $10,000 cash
donation on Nov. 19, 2012.
Yee had yet to appear before the judge
as of 3 p.m., but earlier in the afternoon the judge ordered Chow be
held without bail. Government attorneys called him a flight risk and
danger to the community, citing his criminal history. Chow's lawyer
objected saying that Chow has been fighting with immigration authorities
to stay in the United States.
Chow is not a U.S. citizen. He is
being represented by public defender and lives in San Francisco with his
girlfriend. He has been on electronic monitoring since he's been out of
prison and seeking legal immigration stays, even during the current
FBI agents and local police served arrest and
search warrants throughout the Bay Area, with agents seen in San
Francisco and San Mateo and Yee's Capitol office in Sacramento. One of
the searches was at the San Francisco Chinatown office of the Ghee Kung
Tong Free Masons and is linked to Chow's arrest.
building on Spofford Street -- a Chinatown alley between Clay and
Washington streets -- FBI Special Agent Michael Gimbel would say only
that "the FBI is executing numerous search warrants around the Bay
San Francisco firefighters carried a heavy rotary saw into
the building late Wednesday morning; neighbors said they believe there's
a safe inside the building. Federal agents removed about 10 boxes of
documents and several bags of material from the building at about 12:30
p.m., and the FBI left the scene soon after that.
enforcement officials have been chasing Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow for
decades, branding him one of the longtime Bay Area leaders of a Hong
Kong-based criminal syndicate called the Wo Hop To. Chow's criminal rap
sheet dates back to 1978, and includes federal racketeering indictments
that have alleged attempted murder, murder-for-hire, gun trafficking and
During an afternoon press conference, State Senate
President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said "Leland Yee
should leave the Senate and leave it now."
Yee represents San
Francisco and a portion of San Mateo County. Before becoming the first
Chinese-American ever elected to the state Senate in 2006, Yee was an
assemblyman from 2002 to 2006; a San Francisco supervisor from 1997 to
2002; and had been a member and president of the San Francisco Unified
School District board. While in the Assembly, he was the first
Asian-American to be named Speaker pro Tempore, essentially making him
the chamber's second-most-powerful Democrat.
That power would have
been exercised this year in Yee's run for Secretary of State against
state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys; Democrat Derek Cressman; Republican
Pete Peterson; and nonpartisan Dan Schnur.
Upon pulling his
candidacy papers in February, Yee issued a news release saying it was
time for a Secretary of State "who will expand access to the ballot box,
make our government more transparent, and strengthen California's
"I am committed to empowering Californians so that
they can guarantee fair elections, expose special interests and prevent
corruption, because it's your California," Yee said at the time.
Yee campaign spokesman Joaquin Ross declined to comment Wednesday morning, saying he would have to call back.
is the state's third Democratic legislator recently targeted in
corruption allegations. In February, State Sen. Ron Calderon,
D-Montebello, surrendered to authorities after being indicted on bribery
charges. In January, state Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, was
convicted of voter fraud and perjury stemming from a 2010 indictment.
who until last June was vice president of the nonpartisan government
watchdog group Common Cause, Wednesday morning said that charges against
Yee must be "a wake-up call" given other Senate Democrats' legal
"We are clearly beyond the point of looking at one bad
apple and instead looking at a corrupt institution in the California
Senate," Cressman said. "The constant begging for campaign cash clearly
has a corrosive effect on a person's soul and the only solution is to
get big money out of our politics once and for all."
longtime GOP campaign strategist who more recently served as chairman of
the state Fair Political Practices Commission and directed the
University of Southern California's Unruh Institute of Politics, said
news of Yee's arrest "is yet another in a series of reminders of why
Californians have so little trust in their elected officials.
hope is that this will prompt the Legislature to take much more
aggressive and meaningful action to fix a broken political system than
they have been willing to do to date," Schnur said.
to San Francisco from China at age 3; his father was a veteran who
served in the Army and the merchant marine. Yee earned a bachelor's
degree from UC Berkeley; a master's degree from San Francisco State
University; and a doctorate in child psychology at the University of
Hawaii. He and his wife, Maxine, have four children.
Speier, D-Hillsborough, served with Yee for several years in the
Legislature but was never close to him. She said the senator is innocent
until proven guilty but called the allegations "regrettable."
always sad for all of us in the profession," said Speier, "to see
individuals who lose sight of what the public trust is all about."" via Rush Limbaugh
News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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