Leland Lee

Senator Leland Yee is chased by reporters as he leaves the federal building in San Francisco, CA, Wednesday Mar. 26, 2014. The FBI raided State Sen. Leland Yee’s office in Sacramento and other locations were searched by the FBI in San Francisco. He was reportedly arrested on public corruption charges Wednesday morning amid raids of his office in Sacramento and searches by the FBI in San Francisco. Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle

Marisa Lagos, Henry K. Lee and Bob Egelko
Thursday, March 27, 2014

State Sen. Leland Yee, an outspoken advocate of gun control and open government, was arrested Wednesday on charges that he conspired to traffic in firearms and traded favors in Sacramento for bribes – campaign cash paid by men who turned out to be undercover FBI agents.

Yee, a Democrat who represents half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County and is running for secretary of state, was one of 26 people ensnared in a five-year federal investigation that targeted Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a notorious Chinatown gangster who had claimed to have gone straight, officials said.

The charges, filed Monday and unsealed Wednesday, reverberated through circles of power in San Francisco and Sacramento, shaking up party politics and the secretary of state race. Leading Democratic senators, weary of recent scandals involving party legislators, called for Yee’s resignation.

Yee did not comment after he was arraigned at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on charges of conspiring to traffic in firearms and scheming to defraud citizens of honest services. He appeared somber in a casual jacket before being released on a $500,000 bond.

His lawyer, Paul DeMeester, declined to talk about the charges, saying only that his client was “holding up.”

“Our top priority was to get the senator released, and we’ve accomplished that,” DeMeester said. “The future will hold a lot of work.”

The FBI, in a 137-page complaint, alleged that Chow and five other defendants laundered $2.3 million for undercover agents between March 2011 and December 2013. An agent told them he derived the money from crimes like illegal gambling, drug dealing and marijuana growing, the FBI said.

Most of the suspects – four of whom remain at large – are linked to the Chinatown brotherhood association that Chow heads, known as Ghee Kung Tong, whose headquarters was raided Wednesday. Charges included trafficking in illicit guns, cigarettes and liquor.

The FBI reported infiltrating the group so deeply that one agent, while posing as a member of La Cosa Nostra, was “inducted” as a consultant.
Shift in 2011

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