Suspended state Sen. Leland Yee on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to bribery and gun charges two weeks after he was arrested as part of an elaborate FBI sting involving undercover agents investigating political corruption and an alleged organized crime syndicate based in San Francisco's Chinatown.
Yee entered his pleas in federal court to one count of conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and illegally import firearms; one count of conspiring to defraud citizens of honest services; and six counts of engaging in a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.
The San Francisco Democrat is accused of conspiring to connect an undercover FBI agent with a Philippine arms dealer in exchange for campaign contributions, and of trading political influence for cash.
Yee, who is free on $500,000 bond, has been suspended from the Legislature. Also Tuesday, Yee and his wife, Maxine, signed over their San Francisco home as collateral for the bond. The Yees and their attorney Jim Lassart declined to comment outside court.
His campaign consultant, Keith Jackson, also pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder-for-hire, corruption, conspiracy and firearms trafficking charges. Jackson is free on $250,000 bond.
Yee, Jackson and 18 others were formally indicted last week after their arrests March 26. A total of 29 people have been charged in the organized crime investigation. Several have been arrested outside California and will have to appear in court in San Francisco at some point.
Yee, Jackson and Chow were ordered back to court Friday for their first appearance before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who will preside over the case through trial. Breyer is the brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
Jackson is accused of having connections to a Chinatown organization that the FBI says was a front for a notorious crime syndicate.
Authorities say Jackson served as a middleman between Yee and the syndicate and helped funnel cash to the politician in exchange for political influence.
At the time Jackson was working for Yee, he also was serving as a consultant to the Chinatown organization Ghee Kung Tong, the FBI claims. The tong held itself out as a civic booster and community helper.
However, the FBI alleges it was a front for the headquarters of a notorious organized crime syndicate led by another defendant indicted, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, who has long been on the federal law enforcement's radar.
Chow, who remains behind bars, did not enter a plea to charges including money laundering and firearms trafficking during his appearance in federal court Tuesday.
Chow's recently hired lawyer, noted San Francisco attorney J. Tony Serra, told the judge he needed time to catch up on the case before his client can enter a plea. Chow is also scheduled back in court Friday.
Several lawyers argued Tuesday that their clients were unfairly lured into an FBI sting and that undercover agents initially proposed much of the alleged wrongdoing.
"Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crime and criminal activity. In this case, they created crime and criminal activity," Serra said outside court. "This is political, and (Chow) is truly an innocent person."