State Sen. Leland Yee on Wednesday in San Francisco. He withdrew Thursday from the secretary of state race. (Ben Margot / Associated Press / March 27, 2014)
By Maura Dolan
March 27, 2014, 5:00 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO — Legal analysts said Thursday that the public corruption charges against Sen. Leland Yee — the most serious counts the state lawmaker faces — are more complicated to prove when the alleged bribe involves campaign contributions.
Yee also was charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms, which carries a maximum five-year sentence. But the bulk of the charges against the San Francisco state senator involved public corruption.
Yee faces six counts of scheming to deprive citizens of honest services, each carrying a maximum term of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Those charges require federal prosecutors to prove bribery, extortion or kickbacks with the use of a wire, such as a telephone or bank transfer.
The federal complaint alleges that Yee accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for political favors.
“Campaign contribution cases are the trickiest,” said Dennis Riordan, one of San Francisco’s top appellate criminal defense lawyers.
The Supreme Court has ruled that “people are entitled to donate to candidates to influence their actions and candidates are entitled to take into account the desires of their campaign donors when they vote,” Riordan said.
Because of that rule, federal prosecutors will have to prove that Yee understood the money he received was payment for official acts, Riordan said.
“You have to prove mental state, prove that was what the public official was thinking,” Riordan said.
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