By Dan Brekke and David Marks
Update, 3:15 p.m. Thursday (AP): Gun-control groups said Thursday they were trying to find a new legislative leader to champion firearms restrictions after one of their most outspoken supporters was charged in a federal gun-trafficking case. People on both sides of the gun control issue said the charges against state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, may slow consideration of gun legislation this year.
“Ironically, while he’s being charged with gun trafficking, next to (U.S. Sen.) Dianne Feinstein he was probably the second most outspoken gun control advocate. This really leaves us scrambling for someone to pick up that mantle,” said Paul Song, executive chairman of CourageCampaign.org. “If it wasn’t so sad it would be comical. But what we’re really worried about is that this will further destroy the momentum for gun control here in California.”
Update, 2:30 p.m. Thursday: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released the following statement on California State Senator Leland Yee:
“The allegations against Senator Yee are shocking. It has become clear he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and for the good of his constituents should step down.”
Update, 1:00 p.m. Thursday: U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today released the following statement on the indictment of California State Senator Leland Yee on public corruption and other charges:
“I agree with State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg that Leland Yee should immediately step down. If these allegations are true, they are beyond outrageous. I support the Justice Department’s crackdown on corruption, which sends an unequivocal message that there is absolutely no place in public life for criminals who violate the public trust and demean public service.”
Update, 12:10 p.m. Thursday: Sen. Leland Yee’s defense attorney, Paul DeMeester, announced at a press conference in San Francisco that Yee has withdrawn from the Democratic race for Secretary of State.
A day after he was charged with five counts related to alleged influence peddling and one count of arms trafficking, Yee notified the outgoing Secretary of State Debra Bowen that he was quitting the race.
DeMeester declined to discuss whether Yee intends to comply with a resignation demand from state Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
Yee is due back in court at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Update 6:00 pm Wednesday: California state Sen. Leland Yee was formally charged in federal court in San Francisco Wednesday with six counts of depriving the public of honest services and one count of conspiracy to traffic in guns without a license. Each of the six counts of depriving the public of honest services carries a potential 20-year prison term.
KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler reports that Yee has been released on a $500,000 unsecured bond after being forced to give up his passport and ordered not to leave California. Yee is next expected in court for a 9:30 am hearing on Monday, March 31.
Update 5:00 p.m. Wednesday: State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg called for Sen. Leland Yee to resign from the Senate or face swift suspension by his colleagues, after the San Francisco senator was indicted on arms trafficking and public corruption charges
Update 3:20 p.m. Wednesday: KQED reporter Peter Jon Shuler is in the courtroom for today’s arraignment proceedings. He says state Sen. Leland Yee has yet to be charged, but that of the 12 defendants charged so far, five have been released on bail. Suspected Chinatown gang leader Raymond Chow has been charged — but the presiding judge has ordered him detained at least until a bail hearing scheduled for April 1.
An affidavit of FBI Special Agent Emmanuel Pascua has been unsealed in support of a criminal complaint against Yee, Chow, San Francisco political consultant Keith Jackson and 23 others. Among other things, the affidavit alleges that Yee was involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms with Jackson. The legislator is known as a strong advocate of gun control.
KQED Sacramento Bureau Chief Scott Detrow has been poring over the 137-page affidavit in which Jackson and Yee are reported to have agreed to introduce an undercover federal agent to a weapons dealer in exchange for cash. The affidavit also alleges Yee took payments in exchange for helping another undercover agent with proposed legislation to legalize marijuana.
Update, 11:45 a.m. Wednesday: The Associated Press reports the FBI has confirmed state Sen. Leland Yee’s arrest:
FBI spokesman Peter Lee said State Sen. Leland Yee was arrested Wednesday morning. He declined to discuss the charges, citing an ongoing investigation.
Lee said a second man, Raymond Chow, was also arrested. Chow was reportedly the head of Ghee Kung Tong, one of several fraternal organizations in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Chow had returned to Chinatown after serving time in prison on gun charges.
The San Francisco Chronicle, citing unnamed sources, reports “the predawn, multiagency raids involving hundreds of federal agents and local cops stemmed from a fatal shooting about five years ago.”
Federal officials have told KQED that Yee, Chow and others will be arraigned in San Francisco federal court at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Original post, 9:12 a.m. Wednesday: State Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, a veteran legislator known for his fight against violent video games and for championing the cause of domestic violence victims, has reportedly been indicted and arrested on charges of public corruption in a case that may involve Chinatown gangs.
Yee’s arrest and an apparently associated series of raids were reported early Wednesday by KNTV-NBC Bay Area, San Francisco’s ABC7, Oakland’s KTVU-Channel 2 and others. Federal agents reportedly are carrying out sweeps of Yee’s offices and other locations with the aid of local and state law enforcement.
Yee, trained as a child psychologist, is a longtime San Francisco official who has served on the city’s school board, Board of Supervisors and in the state Assembly and Senate. He is running for secretary of state this year.
Calls by KQED News on Wednesday morning to confirm the reports, including to the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Northern California and three of Yee’s offices, have not yet been answered. The San Francisco police did not confirm that an operation was underway.
But pictures posted online by both NBC Bay Area and KPIX-Channel 5 showed Yee being led from his home in handcuffs and driven away. ABC7 and KTVU report that Yee was taken to San Francisco’s Federal Building. KQED’s Scott Detrow visited Yee’s Sacramento office and found police and other officials stationed in the hallway outside.
California State Senator Leland Yee has been arrested on bribery and corruption charges as part of several arrests made by the FBI Wednesday morning during a sting, sources have told NBC Bay Area.
Yee represents District 8, which comprises of a large portion of east central California. Before redistricting in 2011, Yee represented District 8 in San Francisco.
… Sources told NBC Bay Area that the FBI investigation dates back years. NBC Bay Area has learned that the FBI is making a number of arrests connected to the investigation.
ABC7 Lee reports Yee’s arrest is connected to a law enforcement sweep targeting gangs — though it offers no details of what the connection might be:
A series of search warrants are being executed by the FBI across the Bay Area this morning. ABC7 News has learned they are making numerous arrests in a widespread sweep involving suspected gang members.
One of the searches is taking place at the San Francisco Chinatown office of the Ghee Kung Tong Free Masons. It is linked to the arrest this morning of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.
… FBI agents were raiding Yee’s office at the state Capitol, taking computers and other documents.
The FBI confirmed that it conducted raids at homes and businesses in the Bay Area and Sacramento Wednesday morning, where multiple search warrants were issued and arrests were made.
California Highway Patrol officers and the Sergeant at Arms are currently stationed outside Yee’s office at the state Capitol.
A Reporter’s Guide: Scott Detrow’s take on the FBI Affidavit on State Sen. Leland Yee
Video from KPIX: 2006 profile of Raymond ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow
‘Enter the Dragon Head’: SFWeekly’s 2007 profile of Raymond Chow
Audio from KQED’s ‘Forum’: Scott Detrow on Leland Yee’s arrest
Yee is running for Secretary of State, one of a half-dozen Democrats competing in the race. During a candidates’ forum in Southern California earlier this month, Yee talked about the challenges of succeeding as an immigrant and focused on voter legislation he’s gotten passed. One bill, enacted last year, makes it possible for voters to register online.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Yee told the forum voters should judge the Secretary of State candidates on their records. “That’s the best assessment you can make,” Yee said.
Yee’s Senate biography lists scores of bills he’s passed on subjects ranging from plug-in hybrid vehicles to mental health to domestic violence. He won national recognition for his campaign to ban the sale or rental of violent videogame to those under 18 years old. One of Yee’s bills was enacted but overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court as a violation of First Amendment free-speech rights.
Here’s the Associated Press summary of some of Lee’s legislative highlights:
Yee, 65, is best known publicly for his efforts to strengthen open records, government transparency and whistleblower protection laws, including legislation to close a loophole in state public records laws after the CSU Stanislaus Foundation refused to release its $75,000 speaking contract with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2010.
For his efforts to uphold the California Public Records Act, Yee was honored last week by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which awarded him its public official citation for his efforts last year to maintain the requirements of the California Public Records Act.
Yee has at times clashed with fellow Democrats for casting votes of conscience, refusing to support the Democratic budget proposal in 2011 because of its deep cuts to education, social services and education. He also opposed legislation by a fellow Democrat, Assemblyman Paul Fong of Cupertino, that banned the sale of shark fins used for Chinese shark fin soup, saying that it unfairly targeted the Chinese-American community.
The San Francisco Chronicle notes that Wednesday’s arrest is not Yee’s first encounter with the law:
This isn’t Yee’s first brush with the law. In 2000, Yee was arrested in Hawaii on suspicion of boosting an $8.09 bottle of suntan oil by putting it in the front of his shorts.
A year earlier, Lee was pulled over twice by San Francisco police officer who suspected him of cruising the Mission District in search of prostitutes. In both cases, police questioned Yee at the scene of the stops on South Van Ness Avenue and let him go on his way.
Yee, who championed putting a lid on massage parlors around the city, confirmed the stops, but said that in both cases he was the victim of mistaken identity.
Yee is the third Democratic member of the state Senate currently facing serious legal trouble. Sen. Rod Wright of Los Angeles is on leave as he appeals felony convictions for perjury and voter fraud. Sen. Ron Calderon, also of Los Angeles, faces bribery charges.