Q&A: A guide to Leland Yee corruption scandal: ‘Shrimp Boy’ to guns
The corruption case involving State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has been described as one of the most colorful in recent history. Here are some key questions and answers in the legal and political drama:
What is Yee accused of doing?
An affidavit filed in federal court in San Francisco by FBI Special Agent Emmanuel V. Pascua said there was probable cause to believe that Yee had conducted wire fraud and had engaged in a conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and illegally import firearms.
How did the alleged operation work?
The affidavit paints a portrait of Yee that is by turns seedy and bumbling, and one deeply at odds with the high-minded image he had long cultivated. Yee, until Thursday a candidate for secretary of state, is accused of being willing to take varied and numerous steps to solicit campaign donations and sidestep legal donation limits.
For instance, he is accused of seeking an official state Senate proclamation in the spring of 2013 praising the Ghee Kung Tong Freemason lodge in San Francisco. Yee sought the proclamation, according to the court complaint, in exchange for a $6,800 donation to one of his campaigns — a donation that was paid by an undercover FBI agent.
An organized crime figure named Raymond Chow, known as Shrimp Boy, identifies himself as the “dragon head” of that Freemason organization on his Facebook page. The indictment says that Chow, 54, whose criminal history includes racketeering and robbery, has a position of “supreme authority” in the Triad, an international organized crime group.
Yee is also accused of brokering an introduction between a prospective campaign donor and state legislators who had influence over medical marijuana legislation. It allegedly came in exchange for cash campaign donations that far exceeded legal limits — and were paid by the FBI.
The affidavit says that in August 2013, a prominent California political consultant who had been working to raise money for Yee’s campaigns told a prospective donor, an undercover federal agent, that Yee “had a contact who deals in arms trafficking.”
In exchange for campaign contributions, according to the affidavit, Yee would “facilitate a meeting with the arms dealer” so that the donor could buy a large number of weapons. The firearms would be imported through a port in Newark, N.J. At one meeting, the affidavit said, Yee and the prospective donor discussed “details of the specific types of weapons.”
Who is Shrimp Boy?
Chow was at the center of organized crime in San Francisco’s Chinatown for decades, according to federal court documents. On his Facebook and Twitter accounts he bills himself as a reformed gangster who now advocates on behalf of children.
Chow was born in Hong Kong in 1960 and came to the United States at 16. His grandmother, documents and law enforcement sources say, gave him the nickname Shrimp Boy, in part because of his small stature.
Chow was convicted of armed robbery in 1978 and spent more than seven years in prison.
In 1986, Chow was indicted on various criminal charges, including assault with a deadly weapon, mayhem and possession of a firearm, and served three years in prison.
At some point Chow forged an alliance with Triad member Peter Chong, who told Chow he was a member of the Wo Hop To gang, and their organizations eventually unified into one, according to records. Chow, Chong and a third gang leader then formed an umbrella organization called Tien Hu Wui, the Whole Earth Assn., to oversee all the gangs’ business, according to federal court documents.
In 1995, Chow was convicted on a variety of federal firearms and prostitution-related charges. He was sentenced to 280 months in prison for the firearms offenses. The gang, according to federal court documents, engaged in loan sharking, and exerted control over local gambling dens and restaurants in addition to regularly collecting fees from businesses.
Chow was released in 2003, and in recent years has insisted he has turned his life around and become an upstanding citizen.
How big is this case?
All told, 26 people were identified as having violated federal statutes in the complaint. It was unclear how many were in custody. They were accused of participating in a free-ranging criminal ring that dabbled in a spectrum of activity, from illegal marijuana “grows” to a scheme to transport stolen liquor to China.
What is Yee’s political future?
California’s state Senate was set to vote Friday morning on whether to suspend Yee. Yee did not resign, though he did end his campaign to become California’s secretary of state in this year’s elections.
Is this becoming a political issue in Sacramento?
They include Sen. Roderick Wright, who represents an Inglewood district and has been convicted of perjury and voter fraud, and Sen. Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello, who has been indicted on bribery and money-laundering charges.
“Once again, the Senate has been tarnished by another FBI raid of a senator’s Capitol office,” Huff said in a statement.
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