California state senator Leland Yee was arrested Wednesday and indicted on federal charges of taking bribes in exchange for political favors and conspiring to traffic in firearms without a license.
The Democrat, who has been an outspoken advocate of gun control and open government while in office, is accused of trading favors for campaign cash from undercover FBI agents.
He’s one of 26 people the FBI targeted in a five-year investigation centered on Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a well-known San Francisco Chinatown gangster who claimed he’d gone straight.
The FBI’s 137-page complaint alleges that Chow and five other defendants laundered $2.3 million for undercover agents between March 2011 and December 2013. Most of the suspects are linked to the brotherhood association Chow runs, dubbed Ghee Kung Tong, whose headquarters were raided Wednesday. Other charges against defendants include trafficking in illicit guns, cigarettes and liquor.
In 2011, the FBI turned its attention to Yee. A prominent political consultant named Keith Jackson worked to raise money for Yee’s campaigns and unknowingly brokered some of the introductions between Yee and possible donors who turned out to be undercover FBI agents.
Jackson met Chow in 2010 and began asking FBI agents who had infiltrated Chow’s group to contribute amounts well above the legal limit to Yee’s unsuccessful mayoral bid.
After Yee lost the mayor’s race, he and Jackson allegedly solicited the undercover agents for donations to pay off Yee’s campaign debt. Yee and Jackson allegedly agreed the donations would buy official acts, such as supporting a contract under consideration by the state’s Department of Public Health.
Yee is also accused of taking a donation to set up a meeting with an arms dealer so the undercover FBI agent could buy a large number of weapons and import them through the Port of Newark, New Jersey.
In the state Senate, Yee represents half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County. He was a school board member before being elected to the state Assembly. In the Assembly, he was the first Asian-American to serve as Speaker pro Tem, “essentially making him the chamber’s second-most-powerful Democrat,” the San Jose Mercury News said.
Until his arrest, Yee was considered a leading candidate to become California’s secretary of state. He withdrew from the race Thursday.
Yee was released Wednesday on $500,000 bond after surrendering his passport. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called on him to either resign or face suspension in the next floor session Friday.
California’s legislature was already reeling from February’s indictment of Senator Ronald Calderon. He was accused of accepting bribes from a hospital owner and undercover FBI agents. He faces two dozen counts of bribery, fraud, and money laundering.
Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.