Leland Yee becomes 3rd Democratic state lawmaker to face criminal charges

Leland Yee becomes 3rd Democratic state lawmaker to face criminal charges

Leland YeeA prominent Democrat state lawmaker and candidate for Secretary of State was arrested Wednesday morning as part of a massive federal investigation into corruption and gang activity in Northern California. State Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco became the third Democratic state Senator to face criminal charges in as many months, adding to the growing belief that there is culture of corruption in Sacramento.

Law enforcement authorities offered few details about the case other than to confirm the scale of what has been described as a “massive” operation.

“Hundreds of officers are involved in this,” San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told KCBS about the operation, which he referred to as “massive.”

Yee, who was arrested at his home in San Francisco, was scheduled to be arraigned in federal court on Wednesday afternoon. As Yee awaited his appearance in court, FBI agents searched his offices in the State Capitol. FBI spokeswoman Gina Swankie refused to offer specific information about the arrest, citing the need for protecting agents in the field.

Considered a prominent and influential member of the Senate, Yee’s arrest marks the third time in as many months that a sitting Democratic lawmaker has appeared in court to face criminal charges. In February, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was charged with a 24-count indictment in connection with bribery and corruption. In January, state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, was found guilty of eight counts of felony voter fraud, perjury and filing a false declaration of candidacy.

Also arrested: Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow

Yee’s case appears to be in connection with a larger criminal operation that included at least 30 arrests, according to the Bay Area’s KGO. Included in those arrests was Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, who leads the Ghee Kung Tong masonic organization in San Francisco. Once a notorious criminal, Chow appeared to be on a path toward rehabilitation, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

“Since his supervised release in 2003 — he was still wearing a corrections-issued ankle monitor — thoughts on Chow were polarized between those who believed he was truly turning a new leaf and those who thought he was charming his way into the city’s good graces while still carrying on underworld activities,” the paper reported.

SF political consultant Keith Jackson arrested

As part of its raid, the FBI also arrested San Francisco-based political consultant Keith Jackson, according to NBC News Bay Area. Jackson, who is a former member and president of the San Francisco Board of Education, had been listed as a “senior consultant” at Singer Associates, a San Francisco agency that provides public relations and crisis communications advice to corporations, trade associations, government agencies, cultural institutions and nonprofits.

By Wednesday afternoon, the firm, whose clients include Stockbridge Capital, CalPine and the San Francisco Chronicle, had removed any mention of Jackson from its website. The firm said that Singer “has no affiliation with our agency.”

“He was last a consultant to Lennar Corp., who we worked for, working on Hunters Point Naval Shipyard development about seven years ago,” said Sam Singer, the firm’s president, who has been dubbed a “Top Gun for Hire” by the Chronicle.

According to an archived copy of the firm’s website from Nov. 2012, Jackson specialized in “developing community and grassroots campaigns for corporations working towards strategic business objectives.”

In response to the webpage, Singer said, “He has never been a staff member here. That has been there for seven years … we simply never changed it.”

Culture of corruption in Sacramento

The state Senate has been slow and restrained in its response to the criminal cases facing state Senators. Four Republican state Senators have called for Wright and Calderon to be expelled. However, the state Senate has blocked any action on that proposal or a weaker resolution by Senate GOP leader Bob Huff to formally suspend the members with pay until their criminal cases are resolved.

In January, Mark Vafiades, the chairman of the Los Angeles County Republican Party, described a “culture of corruption” in Sacramento.

Of Wright’s conviction, he said, “It proves beyond any doubt there is something seriously wrong with the absolute power that Democrats have amassed in Sacramento and the lengths they have gone and will go to collect and keep it.”

That message is now gaining bipartisan traction.

“Coming on the heels of the corruption charges of Senator Calderon and the conviction of Senator Wright, today’s actions need to be a wake up call,” Derek Cressman, a Democrat candidate for Secretary of State, said in reaction to Yee’s arrest. “We are clearly beyond the point of looking at one bad apple and instead looking at a corrupt institution in the California senate.”

The former head of California Common Cause added, “The constant begging for campaign cash clearly has a corrosive effect on a person’s soul and the only solution is to get big money out of our politics once and for all.”

Yee’s career: Honored by Society of Professional Journalists

The first Chinese American ever elected to the California state Senate, Yee has made national headlines for his legislative proposals. His most prominent bill, a ban on the sale of violent video games to children, was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. He has also received numerous awards from the media for his work on behalf of open government. 

Yee’s arrest comes less than a week after he was honored by the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter with its Public Official Award. “Senator Leland Yee was instrumental in moving forward numerous bills dealing with transparency in government and public access to records,” concluded a committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter.

Yee served four years in the California State Assembly, before being elected to the state Senate in November 2006. According to his official biography, “In 2010, Senator Yee was re-elected, receiving the most votes of any Democratic legislator in the State.”

He currently represents the 8th Senate District, which includes San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.

Tags assigned to this article:
FBIJohn HrabeLeland Yee

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