SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Democratic State Senator Leland Yee was arrested Wednesday morning in a series of federal raids in the Bay Area and Sacramento targeting an alleged corruption conspiracy involving arms trafficking and campaign fraud to fund his campaign for Secretary of State.
Federal agents arrested Lee at his home in San Francisco Wednesday morning and he was driven to the federal courthouse while his offices in Sacramento were raided.
Also arrested in the raid was 54-year-old Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a former Chinatown gangster who currently heads the Chee Kung Tong masonic organization in San Francisco commonly referred to as the Chinese Freemasons. Agents Wednesday also raided a San Francisco Chinatown building at 36 Spofford St. which houses the Chee Kong Tong.
The charges against Yee include conspiracy to deal firearms without a license, conspiracy to illegally transport firearms, six counts of a scheme to defraud citizens on his services, and wire fraud. A handcuffed and shackled Lee was released on a $500,000 unsecured bond Wednesday evening and was scheduled to return to court Monday to revisit the terms of his release.
A total of 26 people were arrested on a variety of charges, including murder-for-hire, drug trafficking and gun running, according to the federal criminal complaint.
The federal complaint was filed March 24 and unsealed Wednesday alleges Sen. Yee was engaged in soliciting illegal campaign donations in exchange for political favors and was involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms from Russia.
The complaint also alleges Chow was engaged in money-laundering, conspiracy to transport stolen property and conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes.
State Sen. Yee represents California’s 8th District which includes part of San Francisco and the Peninsula. He is currently a candidate for California Secretary of State.
State Sen. President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called on Yee to immediately step down Wednesday, saying the allegations shocking and created “a huge cloud” over the Senate. Yee is the third Senate Democrat embroiled in criminal charges this year, including corruption and voter fraud.
Yee has been an effective lawmaker who has been dogged by controversies over the years. He serves on a number of California Senate committees and chairs three committees, including the Select Committee on California’s Public Record and Open Meeting Laws.
“That’s shocking news to me,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee when asked about the arrest of Sen. Yee. “It’s many years of public service so, I don’t know what’s occurred there … I hope for the best.”
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Also arrested in Wednesday’s raids was 49-year-old San Francisco political consultant Keith Jackson. According to the complaint, Jackson is alleged to be involved in a murder-for-hire conspiracy, gun trafficking and drug trafficking.
Jackson was characterized in the complaint as a close associate of both Yee and Chow and had been involved in raising campaign funds for Yee during his unsuccessful campaign for San Francisco Mayor in 2011.
The complaint alleges Jackson and Yee arranged for illegal campaign donations which were provided by undercover agents. It was also alleged that in exchange for donations to retire his 2011 campaign debt, Yee would perform official acts or issue proclamations on behalf of the Chee Kung Tong organization.
The complaint also alleges Yee and Jackson arranged for campaign donations in exchange for Sen. Yee connecting the donor with an arms dealer for the purpose of importing weapons from rebels fighting the Philippines government. In another instance, the complaint alleges, Yee and Jackson agreed that in exchange for campaign donations, Sen. Yee would introduce a donor to state legislators who had influence over pending marijuana legislation.
In each case, the donors were actually undercover FBI agents.
Yee has gained the ire of gun supporters for pushing for reforms to the California ‘Bullet Button’ loophole law that to strengthen assault weapons regulations.
Maximum penalties for the firearms charges include 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. Penalties for each of the fraud charges could carry a penalty of 20 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Jackson is also named for being involved in narcotics trafficking and marijuana transportation.
Among other locations raided Wednesday was a single-family home in San Mateo on 42nd Avenue and Alameda De Las Pulgas.
A moving van was seen at the home as workers removed several boxes. A number of high-capacity lighting fixtures were seen in the garage of the home.
“Hundreds of officers are involved in this,” San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told KCBS, who described the operation as ‘massive.’
FBI officers confirmed there are a number of jurisdictions involved but emphasized that there is no ongoing threat to public safety.