Update 12 p.m. Attorney Paul DeMeester says he no longer represents suspended state Sen. Leland Yee against federal charges filed in a wide-ranging corruption case that has rocked California’s Democratic political establishment.
DeMeester says Yee’s new attorney is James Lassart. He said the change was made by Yee yesterday.
DeMeester called Yee a “longtime friend” and said he would be in “good hands” with his new lawyer.
Lassart’s web page at the law firm of Murphy Pearson Bradley & Feeney says he is a former assistant U.S. attorney and former coordinator of the northwest region of the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. A 2013 press release announcing his hiring at Murphy Pearson said his job in the U.S. attorney’s office included prosecuting organized crime cases.
Earlier this week, DeMeester, acting as Yee’s attorney, said the Democrat intends to plead not guilty. Yee is expected to face a formal grand jury indictment next week. After a wide-ranging investigation, the FBI claims it has Yee on tape promising to coordinate an arms deal and trade political favors in exchange for cash. Outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco Monday, DeMeester asked why it took the FBI three years to make the arrest, saying the time lag raises questions about the amount of money spent on the investigation.
“It also raises the question of whether the government did not think that they had a case they could make, until towards the end the agents started pushing this idea of the arms dealing,” he said.
Yee remains free on $500,000 bail.
On Tuesday, the FBI searched an office at the state Legislature “occasionally used by a staff member of Yee’s who normally works in his district office,” the Sacramento Bee said.
Yee’s Senate seat will be eliminated later this year, a result of redistricting.
A federal magistrate said Tuesday he believes Keith Jackson, also charged in the case, can be safely released from jail if he can post bond.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen called Jackson a one-man crime wave and said he shouldn’t be released from custody. He laid out the crimes that Jackson allegedly conspired to commit with undercover agents, including drug and gun trafficking and murder-for-hire. And Frentzen said he has it all on tape.
Jackson’s appointed attorney, James Brosnahan, shot back that Jackson has no criminal record, no history of violence, and that the alleged crimes are FBI creations. The veteran defense attorney repeated that outside the courtroom.
“There is no murder, there is no body, there is no corpse. It was in the mind of an FBI agent — several of them,” he said.
Brosnahan, a legendary legal lion, has more than 50 years of criminal and civil experience. As part of the independent prosecutor’s office in the Iran-Contra case, he was the lead federal prosecutor of former U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. His best-known client was John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” from Marin accused of conducting terrorism against the United States when he was captured with the Taliban in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11.
Jackson remains in custody until at least Thursday, when the magistrate will again take up issues surrounding his bail. Brosnahan said he thought Jackson could cobble together $100,000 by using his mother’s house in Texas and another relative’s house in Tennessee as collateral.
Who is Keith Jackson?
Jackson began his political career at 32, winning election to the San Francisco Board of Education on a platform of “family values.”
“He had not really been involved in the school district at all before his election,” said Jill Wynns, also elected to the board in 1994. She said Jackson, a political novice, wasn’t up to the task.
“So when he got elected people were surprised. He came to the board not very well prepared.”
And Jackson resigned from the board presidency three years later, briefly taking a job with the city’s recycling department.
He resurfaced in 2008, when developer Lennar hired him to champion the Hunters Point shipyard project.
Jim Ross, a San Francisco-based consultant, said that Jackson had credibility as an organizer in the neighborhood.
“Of the consultants or the people that you might reach out to and hire, especially in the Western Addition on the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, Keith would be really high on that list.”
Ross said that in 2010 Jackson abruptly left the political scene. According to the FBI affidavit, that’s right around the time he began talking to Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, also arrested in the case.
Tara Siler, Rachael Myrow, Jack Detsch, Scott Shafer and Jon Brooks contributed to this report.