A Democratic state senator from San Francisco who’s known for his gun-control and violence-prevention efforts was arrested Wednesday on federal corruption and firearms charges.
Sen. Leland Yee was released from custody Wednesday on $500,000 bail after appearing handcuffed and shackled in federal court.
The 137-page affidavit in support of a criminal complaint against Yee, who represents parts of San Francisco and San Mateo County, and dozens of others culminated a yearslong investigation by the FBI into allegations of firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder for hire, drug distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes and honest-services fraud.
Court documents say Yee or one of his campaign staffers accepted at least $42,800 in cash or campaign contributions from undercover FBI agents in exchange for carrying out agents’ requests. He is also accused of trying to help an undercover agent obtain weapons from a Muslim rebel group.
Yee looked downcast as he appeared in court Wednesday. He told the judge he understood the charges against him.
Notorious Chinatown gang leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow and San Francisco political consultant Keith Jackson were among the 25 others named in the affidavit, and both were also arrested Wednesday.
Yee has been charged with conspiracy to traffic firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, along with six counts of defrauding citizens of honest services.
The revelations come as Yee, who in 2006 was the first Chinese-American to be elected to the California Senate, is campaigning for secretary of state. His colleagues in the Senate on Wednesday also called for his resignation.
Yee and Jackson appear to have a relationship that dates back to at least the mid-1990s, when both served on the Board of Education. Jackson is also a Yee campaign aide.
According to the affidavit, Jackson was introduced to an undercover FBI agent by Chow, who was under investigation by federal agents.
Jackson, the owner and operator of the San Francisco-based consulting firm Jackson Consultancy, has helped raise money for Yee’s political campaigns since at least 2011, the affidavit states.
Yee and Jackson allegedly raised money for campaigns, including Yee’s unsuccessful 2011 San Francisco mayoral bid and this year’s secretary of state election, by soliciting donations from undercover FBI agents in exchange for “official acts.”
Yee, who was at least $70,000 in debt after the 2011 election, and Jackson allegedly agreed that Yee would call a manager with the California Department of Public Health supporting a contract under consideration with a second undercover agent’s supposed client. Yee would provide an official letter of support for the client in exchange for a $10,000 campaign donation, according to the affidavit.
Yee allegedly made that call Oct. 18, 2012, and provided the letter on or around Jan. 13, 2013, the affidavit stated. Jackson allegedly accepted the $10,000 cash donation during that time frame.
Additionally, in an attempt to raise more money for Yee’s campaign, in August, Jackson told an undercover agent that Yee had a contact who deals in arms trafficking, according to the affidavit. Jackson allegedly requested that the undercover agent provide a campaign donation to Yee in exchange for Yee facilitating a meeting with the firearms dealer from whom the agent was supposedly going to purchase a large number of weapons.
During a meeting with the agent, Yee and Jackson discussed details of the specific types of weapons the agent was interested in buying and importing, according to the affidavit.
Jackson has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, trafficking in firearms without a license, six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of honest services, use of an interstate commerce facility for the commission of a murder-for-hire and conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
The murder-for-hire charge stems from an investigation into Jackson and his son Brandon Jackson, who, along with other defendants named in the affidavit, allegedly sold firearms to an undercover agent and conspired to commit a suspected murder-for-hire scheme requested by the undercover agent. They’re also accused of buying stolen credit cards and cocaine from the agent.
Jackson and Yee were arrested early Wednesday during a series of raids by the FBI in Sacramento and the Bay Area.
Derek Cressman, another Democratic candidate for secretary of state, said he was at the state Capitol on Wednesday morning during part of the raid.
“I guess it’s shocking but not surprising,” Cressman said of the allegations. “I think that we have a campaign system that trains and conditions our politicians to beg for money. I think we’ve come to expect that it takes a toll on their personal ethics.”
Mayor Ed Lee also expressed his disappointment in the accusations at a news conference Wednesday morning.
“I was personally shocked,” he said. “What flashes in my mind is decades of public service and I hate to see that situation occur.”
Yee has previously served as a California assemblyman and San Francisco supervisor, along with an eight-year stint on the San Francisco Board of Education.
Yee is the third Democratic state senator to face charges this year. Sen. Rod Wright was convicted of perjury and voter fraud for lying about his legal residence in Los Angeles County, and Sen. Ron Calderon has been indicted on federal corruption charges.
Senate leader calls for Yee’s resignation
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is calling on Sen. Leland Yee to resign after being indicted on federal corruption and firearms charges.
At a news conference Wednesday, Steinberg, D-Sacramento, warned that fellow Democrats will immediately suspend the San Francisco Democrat unless he steps down.
The warning comes hours after Yee was arrested and appeared in federal court.
An affidavit unsealed Wednesday accuses Yee of accepting tens of thousands of dollars to peddle state influence and conspiring to illegally import firearms.
Steinberg says the allegations are shocking and create “a huge cloud” over the Senate. Yee is the third Senate Democrat embroiled in criminal charges this year, including corruption and voter fraud.
Steinberg says their actions do not reflect on other senators.
Born: Nov. 20, 1948 (age 65) in Taishan, China
Spouse: Maxine Yee
Residence: San Francisco
Education: UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University, University of Hawaii
Profession: Child psychologist
November 2006: Elected to California Senate
November 2002: Elected to California Assembly
1996–2002: Member of San Francisco Board of Supervisors
1988-1996: Member of San Francisco Board of Education
Honors: Yee has been named Legislator of the Year by many organizations, including the American Psychological Association; California School Employees Association; California Psychiatric Association; California Partnership to End Domestic Violence; Community College Association; San Francisco Women’s Political Committee; California Faculty Association; and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Of note: Since 2003, Yee has had 181 pieces of legislation passed; 138 have been signed into law.
Examiner Staff Writer Jessica Kwong, Bay City News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.