A federal indictment released Friday expanded criminal charges against state Sen. Leland Yee to include racketeering, alleging Yee attempted to extort campaign contributions from an NFL team owner and supporters of mixed martial arts.
Yee, a San Francisco lawmaker, was arrested in March and charged with accepting $62,000 in campaign contributions in return for favors, and offering to arrange the sale of machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles to an undercover FBI agent posing as a mob figure.
On Friday, a superseding grand jury indictment was issued, adding a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, Act, which allows enhanced criminal penalties and civil action when crimes are performed as part of a criminal organization.
In the new indictment, Yee faces three additional charges: one count of "conspiracy to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity," and two counts of conspiracy "to obtain property under the color of official right."
Yee has pleaded not guilty to the original counts and remains in office on paid suspension. He will have to enter a plea on the new charges.
The new, 148-page indictment includes charges against the same 29 people charged earlier, including Yee's political consultant, Keith Jackson, and Chinatown figure Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow. Jackson, a former president of the San Francisco Board of Education, also was newly charged with racketeering.
A racketeering conviction carries a possible prison sentence of 20 years or more and huge fines, said "Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosector."RICO allows the prosecution to tie together different types of illegal activities and conspiracies. Thus, it is a more expansive charge," Levenson said. "From a public relations point of view, being charged with 'racketeering' certainly sounds worse and connotes the activities of organized crime.
The indictment alleges that in exchange for official actions, Yee accepted campaign contributions toward his 2011 campaign for mayor of San Francisco and for his later abandoned 2014 campaign for secretary of state.
Curtis Briggs, an attorney for Chow, called the new indictment "completely underwhelming" because it did not charge any new defendants and did not expand on the allegations against his client, including money laundering, which he denies.
Jackson's attorney declined to comment, through a representative. An attorney for Yee did not respond to requests for comment on the new indictment, which describes additional accusations of actions by Yee offered in exchange for campaign contributions.
The alleged racketeering enterprise involving Yee and Jackson, according to the indictment, included "Extorting individuals and professional sports teams related to the passage of legislation governing the ability of professional athletes to collect workers compensation for injuries in California."
In 2013, Yee allegedly told an undercover FBI agent posing as an Arizona businessman that he should contact an NFL team owner the agent claimed to know and the owner "should contact Yee with an offer to help Yee," because he would be a key vote on the workers compensation bill, the indictment says.
The undercover agent allegedly asked Yee how much his vote would cost and Yee allegedly said, "Oh no ... we gotta drag it out, man. We gotta juice this thing," the indictment says.
The indictment refers to a purported owner but does not provide any evidence that an actual NFL owner was involved.
The undercover agent offered Yee $60,000 for his vote, the indictment says, but Yee, after voting for the bill in committee, did not receive a campaign contribution. Yee abstained when the full Senate approved the bill.
The indictment also accuses Yee and Jackson of "extorting individuals related to the California State Athletic Commission and the Mixed Martial Arts industry regarding retaining the existence of CSAC and its ability to regulate certain sports in California."
Yee allegedly told an unidentified individual who wanted the commission to keep operating, which allowed it to continue permitting mixed martial arts fights, that he should hire Jackson as his lobbyist to win approval of a bill that extended the commission's operations. Yee told the individual he was thinking of voting against the bill but ended up voting for the measure.
The racketeering offenses that are alleged also include conspiracy to traffic in "missile systems designed to destroy aircraft."
Yee and some other members of his political campaign, according to the indictment, "protected unlawful campaign contributions and payment of money by routing those contributions through third party 'straw' or 'conduit' contributors by reimbursing those contributors and by requesting secrecy from perceived co-conspirators, intended to promote the enterprise."
Assistant U.S. Atty. S. Waqar Hasib declined to comment.