Q&A: Leland Yee, Shrimp Boy and one extraordinary San Francisco corruption scandal

Leland Yee

State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), left, speaks on a bill at the Capitol in Sacramento in January 2014. Yee was indicted in March 2014 on charges of accepting $62,000 in campaign contributions in return for legislative favors and offering to arrange the sale of machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles to an undercover FBI agent posing as a mob figure.


(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

One of the biggest corruption scandals in San Francisco history comes to a head Wednesday when former state Sen. Leland Yee is set to be sentenced.

Here are some key questions and answers in the case from The Times’ archives:

Who is Leland Yee?

At one time, Yee was an up-and-coming elected official. He served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in the state Assembly and at the time of his indictment was in the state Senate. 


What did he do?

Yee admitted in a plea deal that he was part of a racketeering conspiracy that involved exchanging official acts for money, conspiring to traffic in weapons and money laundering. Specifically, Lee promised an undercover FBI agent favors in return for campaign contributions.

Government prosecutors have asked that Yee be sentenced to eight years in prison, a three-year term of supervised release, a fine of $25,000 and a $100 special assessment.

How did the scheme work?


A federal affidavit filed in 2014 painted a portrait of Yee that was by turns seedy and bumbling, and one deeply at odds with the high-minded image he had long cultivated. Yee, who had been a candidate for secretary of state, was accused of being willing to take varied and numerous steps to solicit campaign donations and sidestep legal donation limits.

For instance, he was 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, identified himself as the “dragon head” of that Freemason organization on his Facebook page. The indictment said Chow, 54, whose criminal history includes racketeering and robbery, had a position of “supreme authority” in the Triad, an international organized crime group.

Yee was 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 said 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.”

Here is a timeline from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here is the federal indictment.


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, according to records. Chow, Chong and a third gang leader 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.



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