State Senator Leland Yee Accused of Arms Trafficking and Bribery

Democratic State Senator Leland Yee was arrested yesterday on federal charges of corruption and arms trafficking.  He was the biggest fish among 26 people netted in a sprawling complaint that charged money laundering, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, wire fraud, unlicensed firearms sales, transportation of stolen goods, and conspiracy to commit murder for hire.  The only silver lining for the senator is that the feds did not implicate him in the murder for hire conspiracy.

Yee joins Senators Ron Calderon and Roderick Wright in the rogues gallery of powerful Democrats recently felled by corruption investigations.  Thanks to these cases, the Dems have lost their supermajority voting bloc in Sacramento.  If this trend continues, they might wind up losing their majority as well.

This was a massive FBI investigation, involving up to 15 undercover FBI agents, various confidential sources, extensive wiretaps, and ultimately the execution of multiple simultaneous search warrants by hundreds of federal agents, who arrested many of the named defendants.  The 137-page criminal complaint reads like an Elmore Leonard novel.  It describes how, starting about five years ago, the FBI successfully infiltrated the Hop Sing Tong (HST) gang in San Francisco.  One undercover agent (UC), posing as a member of the New Jersey mafia, developed a relationship with a leader of the HST, Kwok Cheung Chow, aka Shrimp Boy, a veteran gangster with convictions for racketeering, murder for hire, and heroin trafficking.

Through Chow, the undercover agent met various shady operators, including Keith Jackson, a San Francisco-based political consultant whose client was Senator Yee.  Yee had unsuccessfully run for Mayor of San Francisco in 2011 and lost.  He next hoped to run for Secretary of State, and was desperate to retire his $70K mayoral campaign debt and also raise money for his statewide run.

The most explosive allegations against Senator Yee are not, strictly speaking, corruption charges.  They are rather allegations of illegal arms dealing–flat-out criminal activity unrelated to his status as an elected official.  The UC, who allegedly had already purchased illegal firearms through Jackson to protect a supposed marijuana grow, learned from Jackson in August 2013 that Senator Yee knew an international arms dealer.  The UC, though Jackson, expressed interest in buying a large quantity of weapons for as much as $2 million, particularly automatic rifles and shoulder-fired weapons.  After making several campaign contributions to Yee through Jackson, the UC ultimately met with Jackson and Yee and engaged in detailed (and secretly recorded) discussions of the proposed arms purchase.  The arms were to be purchased in the Philippines and shipped to the port in Newark, NJ, possibly en route to Africa and other strife-torn areas.

Senator Yee is allegedly on tape saying, “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.”  He purportedly told the UC that he would appoint him to a Russian delegation after he won the election for Secretary of State.  He supposedly said that he took an “agnostic” view of the weapons deal, remarking, “People want to get whatever they want to get.  Do I care?  No, I don’t care. People need certain things.”

There are numerous allegations of traditional bribery as well, styled as honest services wire fraud.  In each alleged incident, Senator Yee asked for illegal campaign donations from undercover FBI agents in exchange for taking official actions, such as:

  • In exchange for a $10K campaign donation, writing an official letter of support and placing a telephone call to a manager with the Department of Public Health to help the donor (an undercover agent) win a contract.
  • Arranging for an official State Senate proclamation honoring Chee Kung Tong, a purported civic group, in exchange for a $6,800 donation.
  • Introducing a donor (another FBI UC) to state legislators in exchange who had influence over pending marijuana legislation, in exchange for a $21,000 cash donation.  The UC had posed as a Arizona businessman involved in medical marijuana, who wished to expand operations to California and wanted more restrictive laws passed to eliminate competition from smaller dispensaries.

He allegedly told the UC to “be careful” and “cover your tracks”

Senator Yee has been charged with honest services wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, 1346 and conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and illegally import firearms, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, 922.  The government will presumably be indicting this case within the next two weeks.


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