State Senator Leland Yee, known for his promotion of gun control and government transparency, was among 26 people arrested Wednesday by the FBI in a corruption probe that focused on San Francisco’s Chinatown. The Bay Area Democrat was charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms and trading government favors for bribes.
Yee is a candidate for California Secretary of State.
Also arrested was Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a Chinese citizen and current leader of the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong (CKT) organization. Courthouse News Service describes him as a “notorious gangster” who “has been arrested and convicted of armed robbery, assault with a firearm, extortion, drug trafficking and attempted murder.” Chow served time in state prison.
Chow is currently in the country awaiting resolution of his application to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for an S-visa. Those are doled out to witnesses in criminal proceedings, which could be related to his plea agreement on federal racketeering charges in 2000 that resulted in a reduced sentence and an ankle bracelet to monitor his movements.
The FBI said Chow is the leader of a San Francisco street gang with 200 to 300 members and has connections to the Triad, an international Chinese organized crime group.
The 137-page complaint details the FBI’s infiltration of Chow’s operation and its agents’ contacts with Yee. The senator was said to be in search of funds to cover $70,000 in debts from an unsuccessful run for San Francisco mayor in 2011. Yee’s connection with Chow was said to have been facilitated by Keith Jackson, a political consultant and former president of the S.F. Board of Education.
In exchange for campaign contributions, Yee allegedly brokered a meeting with lawmakers over medical marijuana legislation, sought a proclamation praising the Ghee Kung Tong Freemason lodge in San Francisco and facilitated contacts with an arms dealer.
In December 2013, Yee allegedly was paid $5,000 to hook up a man (who turned out to be an FBI agent) with an arms dealer he knew. The senator reportedly told the agent the contact “had things you guys want” but warned that dealing with the man “was not a business for the faint of heart.” The payoff was supposed to be at least $100,000 upon completion of the deal.
In a February 2014 meeting at a restaurant with an undercover federal agent and Jackson, Yee reportedly said, “People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don't care. People need certain things.”
One of the “things” Yee said people don’t need are souped up assault weapons. The senator introduced legislation in 2012 that would prohibit the use of the bullet button and other devices that allow for easily changeable magazines on assault weapons, such as AR-15s. It passed the Senate last year, but did not get out of committee in the Assembly.
Yee was honored last week by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for his efforts to promote open government and support for the California Public Records Act.
Yee is the third Democrat in the state Senate to run afoul of the law this legislative session. Senator Roderick Wright is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of voter fraud in January. Senator Ron Calderon pleaded not guilty in February to 24 charges related to wire fraud, bribery, money laundering and tax fraud.
Both Calderon and Wright are no longer participating in Senate business while they await final disposition of their cases, depriving Democrats of a long-sought, short-lived two-thirds majority that makes passing legislation without Republican support much more manageable. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, immediately called for Yee’s resignation.