State Senator Leland Yee, who recently made news on this blog for his flip-flop-and-then-flip again on SCA5, was reportedly arrested this morning in an FBI raid; the investigation also included other state and federal agencies.
Yee, who represents San Francisco and part of San Mateo County, and who is currently running for California Secretary of State, was arrested along with notorious former San Francico-area gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, after FBI and IRS investigators searched both Yee’s Sacramento-based office, as well as his San Francisco home. Both are scheduled to appear in court this afternoon.
(This post will be continuously updated with details as they are reported. This post was updated to include information about the charges against Senator Yee.)
The raid is reportedly the culmination of a 5-year investigation into Yee that started after a fatal shooting, and is part of a larger bust of the Chee Khun Tong (CKT), an organized crime ring involved in money laundering, drug dealing, and other unsavoury activities. The FBI unsealed today the 130-page criminal affidavit against Yee and Chow, as well as approximately 25 other defendents. The investigation included several FBI agents who worked undercover for nearly three years. While much of the affidavit focuses on Chow and the illegal activities that he and his CKT associates engaged in, the undercover work of the primary agent in the case, UCE 4599, also uncovered a host of corrupt activities by State Senator Leland Yee.
The charges against Senator Yee consist primarily of illegal activities associated with 1) corruption and bribery in his position as an elected official; and 2) brokering an illegal firearms deal.
Corruption and Bribery: In association with his long-time campaign advisor and consultant, Keith Jackson (who faces separate criminal charges in the indictment including a murder-for-hire plot), Yee solicited campaign donations from multiple undercover FBI agents dating as far back as 2011 in exchange for official acts.
In one incident, he allegedly accepted $10,000 to retire his debt from his failed mayoral bid in exchange for his advocacy on behalf of a software company seeking to receive a state contract from the California Department of Public Health. In return for $6800, Yee allegedly helped issue an official State Proclamation honouring the CKT Tong organization, an offshoot of the Chinese Freemasons civic organization that is purportedly still headed by Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. In a final incident, Yee allegedly accepted roughly $20,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as a medical marijuana businessman from Arizona, in exchange for his adoption of the the medical marijuana issue, as well as personal introductions to two other elected officials who might help favourably alter California’s legislation.
Throughout these activities, Yee seems entirely aware that he could be engaging in corrupt activities, and takes steps to try and avoid being connected with what he calls “pay for play” activities. However, at other times, he seems to volunteer his position as an elected official for campaign funds, and even uses his aspirations for higher office as a means to encourage further “investments” into his campaign.
Illegal Firearms Trafficking: In a separate incident, an FBI agent who over the course of three years infiltrated the CKT Tong criminal organization run by “Shrimp Boy” made it clear he was interested in purchasing illegal firearms. Jackson then connected the FBI agent — the heroic UCE 4599 who basically single-handedly is taking down the CKT Tong in this case — with Senator Yee, who volunteered to broker a deal between UCE 4599 and an international arms dealer for the explicit purchase of assault rifles and shoulder-to-air missiles.
After failing to connect UCE 4599 with one arms dealer, Yee continued brokering the arms deal with a second dealer, Dr. Wilson Lim, who is also named in the indictment.
In total, Yee faces seven federal charges, and is facing a maximum penalty of 125 years in prison, and $1.75M in fines.
I’m sure we’re all asking ourselves why Yee — a fixture in California state politics — would engage in activities like this? The answer to this question is hinted upon in another conversation reported in the affidavit.
This isn’t the first time that Yee has had a run-in with the law, although this latest arrest is almost certain to end Senator Yee’s political career. In 2000, Yee was arrested in Hawaii on suspicion of shoplifting an $8 bottle of suntan lotion by hiding it in his shorts. More recently, Yee has been pulled over twice and questioned for potentially canvassing for prostitution.
Ironically, Yee has built his recent political platform on ending government corruption in California, including campaign finance reform. He had recently accepted the Public Official award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his efforts to keep government “open and accountable”. Yee is also well-known for his recent campaign to criminalize the sale of violent video games to children; the law passed but was struck down by the Supreme Court as a violation of free speech. Finally, Yee was an avid advocate for stricter gun control.
Check back to this post for more details and updates as this story unfolds.
Update (3/26/2014 4pm EST): Senator Yee is scheduled to appear in court at 1:30pm PST, in a case that is called “USA vs. …” on the courtroom door.
Leland case called USA vs. under seal on courtroom sign. Reporters gathering. #LelandYee
— Lauren Smiley (@laurensmiley) March 26, 2014
Federal officials are removing boxes of evidence from Senator Yee’s home and office, and have brought in bolt cutters to open a safe in the Freemasons Lodge in Chinatown.
Update (3/26/2014 5:30pm EST): The criminal affidavit against Chow and Yee has just been released. Download it here.
Update (3/26/2014 8:32PM EST): This post was updated with information from the FBI affidavit citing Yee, Chow and other defendants. Also, Yee has been — not surprisingly — suspended from Senate activities until these charges are addressed.