(Adds Republican comment)
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 4 A prominent
Democratic California state senator and gun-control advocate was
indicted by a San Francisco grand jury on charges of corruption
and conspiracy to traffic in firearms, according to court
documents released on Friday.
The indictment adds to the troubles facing state Senator
Leland Yee, who was arrested last week and criminally charged
along with two dozen others in the same case. He has since been
suspended with pay.
Yee, 65, is the third California state senator to face
criminal charges this year in separate cases that have cost
Democrats a cherished two-thirds legislative majority in an
election year and prompted them to cancel a major fundraiser
planned for this weekend.
Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg, who has said
that the charges against Yee "sickened" him, on Friday renewed
calls for the senator to resign.
"Senator Steinberg renews his demand that Senator Yee
resign, and resign now," spokesman Rhys Williams said in an
email to Reuters.
The party, which dominates both houses of the legislature
and holds all statewide offices, effectively lost its two-thirds
majority in the senate last month. Senators Ron Calderon and
Roderick Wright were placed on paid leave of absence after
Calderon was indicted on corruption charges and Wright was
convicted of lying about living in the district he sought to
represent. Both were later suspended with pay along with Yee.
"The people of California deserve elected officials who
embody the highest levels of integrity," said Republican senate
leader Bob Huff, who pushed for suspending the three senators.
"It is very troublesome that we have three separate Senators in
one year convicted or charged with various felonies."
In canceling a glittering fundraiser that was slated to
begin on Friday at the picturesque Torrey Pines Golf Course
overlooking the Pacific Ocean near San Diego, Democrats
acknowledged "extraordinary breaches of the public trust" in the
"These are unprecedented times and they demand that we take
a step back and take stock of how we all do the people's
business and balance it against the demands of running for
office," Steinberg and lawmaker Kevin de Leon said in a joint
statement on Tuesday.
CASH AND WEAPONS
In a 31-page indictment that sharpens but does not
materially change the allegations against Yee, he is charged
with six counts of corruption and one count of conspiracy to
traffic in firearms.
Last week, his lawyer said he planned to plead not guilty,
but yesterday Yee hired a new attorney, who did not respond to a
request for comment on Friday.
Among the allegations contained in the indictment is that
the one-time San Francisco mayoral candidate accepted cash from
an undercover FBI agent seeking to purchase illegal weapons.
The indictment says Yee and his campaign consultant, Keith
Jackson, sought to enrich themselves and pay off debt from Yee's
failed mayoral campaign by accepting bribes, both in cash and by
check, from undercover FBI agents.
In one instance, Yee wrote a letter on behalf of a
technology company that an undercover FBI agent claimed to
represent, and in another he helped an undercover FBI agent who
said he was working to legalize marijuana in the state, the
In the indictment, the two men are also accused of offering
to help another undercover FBI agent to obtain illegal guns.
Yee was arrested along with more than two dozen others last
week in a broad sweep of suspected organized crime and
corruption activity in San Francisco. Among those charged in the
indictment is Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, a Chinatown figure who
is accused of money laundering and conspiracy.
An indictment is likely to make it more difficult for Yee's
attorney to argue that the charges should be dismissed, because
the process for fighting an indictment is different than the
process for fighting a simple criminal charge.
Yee is scheduled to appear in San Francisco court next week
to be arraigned on the charges, according to court documents.
Each of the charges against him carries a maximum sentence of 20
years in prison, according to a press release issued Friday by
the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, whose
office will be prosecuting the case.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and