California State Senator Leland Yee asked for campaign donations in exchange for introducing an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.
The allegations against Yee were outlined in an FBI affidavit in support of a criminal complaint. The affidavit accuses Yee — who authored gun control legislation — of conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms. He was arrested Wednesday.
Yee is also accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and cash payments to provide introductions, help a client get a contract and influence legislation. He or members of his campaign staff accepted at least $42,800 in cash or campaign contributions from undercover FBI agents in exchange for carrying out the agents’ specific requests, the court documents allege.
Yee discussed helping the agent get weapons worth $500,000 to $2.5 million, including shoulder fired automatic weapons and missiles, and took him through the entire process of acquiring them from a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines to bringing them to the United States, according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Emmanuel V. Pascua.
He was unhappy with his life and told the agent he wanted to hide out in the Philippines, according to the affidavit.
“There’s a part of me that wants to be like you,” he told the undercover agent, according to the affidavit. “You know how I’m going to be like you? Just be a free agent there.”
The introduction with the trafficker took place at a San Francisco restaurant earlier this month, according to the documents. Yee said he wouldn’t go to the Philippines until November.
“Once things start to move, it’s going to attract attention. We just got to be extra-extra careful,” he said, according to court documents.
The affidavit names Yee and 25 others, including Raymond Chow, a onetime gang leader with ties to San Francisco’s Chinatown known as “Shrimp Boy,” and Keith Jackson, Yee’s campaign aide. Jackson is accused of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Chow and Yee were arrested Wednesday during a series of raids in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.
According to court documents, Yee performed “official acts” in exchange for donations from undercover FBI agents, as he sought to dig himself out of a $70,000 debt incurred during a failed San Francisco mayoral bid.
Yee is also accused of accepting $10,000 in January 2013 from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for making a call to the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract was considering.
The agent who discussed arms with Yee presented himself as a member of Ghee Kung Tong, a fraternal organization in San Francisco’s Chinatown that Chow reportedly headed. It was among the sites searched Wednesday.
Firefighters were seen going inside with a circular saw and later said they had cracked a safe. FBI agents were seen coming out with boxes and trash bags full of evidence that they loaded into an SUV.
Chow is accused of money laundering, conspiracy to receive and transport stolen property and conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes.
Yee is the third Democratic 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. Wright and Calderon are taking a voluntary leave of absence, with pay, although Republicans have called for them to be suspended or expelled from the Legislature.
Mark Hedlund, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, confirmed that the FBI searched Yee’s office in the state capitol on Wednesday.
Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he had no comment and did not know anything about the investigation.
Officers from the California Highway Patrol and Senate sergeant-at-arms details were standing guard outside Yee’s office, where a morning newspaper remained untouched.