SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A prominent state senator withdrew from a race for California Secretary of State on Thursday, a day after he was arrested by FBI agents and charged with corruption and conspiring to import and traffic firearms, his attorney said.
Democratic state Senator Leland Yee said he would end his campaign to become California’s chief elections officer in a letter submitted to Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office on Thursday, his attorney Paul DeMeester told reporters.
A former San Francisco supervisor and one-time mayoral candidate, Yee had been considered a strong candidate for the seat, but now risks becoming the first California state senator ever suspended.
“This was a very personal decision on the part of the senator,” DeMeester told a news conference. “This is what he wanted to do in relation to that election for office given the circumstances of the federal case.”
Prosecutors criminally charged Yee, a child psychologist, in federal court in San Francisco on Wednesday with two felony counts of conspiring to import and traffic in firearms and six corruption counts. He was released on $500,000 bond.
Calls to Yee’s office were not returned on Thursday. DeMeester declined to speak about the case.
Yee’s arrest deals a blow to California Democrats, whose two-thirds majority in the state Senate was eroded when fellow senators Ron Calderon, indicted on corruption charges, and Rod Wright, found guilty of voter fraud, took paid leaves of absence earlier this year.
Democrats control large majorities in both houses of the state legislature and all statewide offices, but having a third senator under a cloud could seriously undermine the party’s ability to push key projects in an election year.
In the probe that led to Yee’s arrest, federal authorities also arrested Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, alleged to be the head of a Chinese organized crime syndicate, and two dozen other people, prosecutors said.
A criminal complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of California says that Yee, in exchange for campaign contributions, did favors for an undercover FBI agent.
He offered to facilitate a meeting between an undercover agent and an arms dealer, and discussed the types of weapons the undercover agent might need, the complaint said.
California Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg has called for Yee’s resignation and could move to suspend him as soon Friday, said his spokesman Mark Hedlund.
The senate has never suspended a member, said Bernadette McNulty of the Office of the Secretary of the Senate. If suspended, Yee would still receive pay, likely until his term ends, but would not perform his legislative duties.
Other federal and state lawmakers have called for Yee to resign or be suspended from the sate senate.
“The allegations against Senator Yee are shocking,” U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said in a statement. “It has become clear he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and for the good of his constituents should step down.”
Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Bernard Orr