While serving as a member of the California State Senate, Leland Yee admittedly participated in soliciting bribes, laundering money, and arranging an international illegal arms deal to acquire shoulder-fired weapons and rocket launchers in connection with a Chinese organized crime syndicate operating out of San Francisco. Although undercover FBI agents repeatedly recorded Yee breaking federal laws, he only pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and was sentenced to prison on Wednesday.
On August 5, 2010, renowned Chinese gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow of the Chee Kung Tong (CKT) organization introduced an undercover FBI agent to CKT consultant and Yee political advisor, Keith Jackson. At Yee’s behest, Jackson repeatedly requested that the undercover FBI agent contribute to Yee’s ill-fated campaign for mayor of San Francisco. The federal agent later introduced Yee and Jackson to several other undercover FBI agents posing as campaign donors seeking political favors from Yee in exchange for bribes.
According to the criminal complaint against 26 defendants, including Yee, the undercover FBI agent met Jackson and Yee at a coffee shop in San Francisco on January 22, 2014, to negotiate purchasing up to $2.5 million worth of shoulder-fired weapons or missiles and automatic weapons. On March 5, 2014, the FBI agent met with Jackson and Yee at a hotel restaurant in San Francisco to negotiate the firearms trafficking deal. Yee requested campaign contributions from the undercover agent and discussed his relationship with the arms dealer who worked for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an extremist Islamic group located in the Philippines. Yee affirmed that the arms dealer could provide the undercover agent with rocket launchers and shoulder-fired weapons.
On March 24, 2014, a federal criminal complaint was filed against 26 defendants, including Yee, Chow, and Jackson. The original charges ranged from firearms trafficking to money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, and honest services fraud. On April 3, 2014, a federal grand jury indicted 29 defendants including charges against Yee for honest services conspiracy, wire fraud, and conspiracy to transport and receive stolen property in interstate commerce. Racketeering charges were added later, accusing Yee and Jackson of extorting individuals related to the California State Athletic Commission and the Mixed Martial Arts industry.
Shortly after his arrest, Yee stepped down as state senator and withdrew his candidacy for Secretary of State of California. On July 1, 2015, Yee admitted to accepting numerous bribes in exchange for political favors, participating in money laundering, and conspiring to purchase illegal shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. In accordance with his plea agreement, Yee was only charged with one count of racketeering while the other charges were dismissed.
“The crimes that you committed have resulted in essentially an attack on democratic institutions,” U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer told Yee at his sentencing on Wednesday. “That in the court’s view is a very serious violation of trust. Votes are not for sale. Positions are not for sale. And your conduct…indicating that it was for sale was a violation of trust.”
Yee was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday. According to a court filing by prosecutors, he has also agreed to forfeit approximately $33,000, mostly from his campaign account for secretary of state.