The public-corruption case filed against state Sen. Leland Yee on Wednesday could mark an abrupt end to the prestigious, and sometimes divisive, political career of one of the most prominent figures in California’s Democratic legislative majority.
After prosecutors unsealed a federal indictment accusing Yee of sidestepping campaign donation rules in exchange for political favors, and of engaging in a conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and illegally import firearms, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg on Wednesday called on the San Francisco Democrat to either resign or face swift suspension by his colleagues.
“We’re going to demand that Leland Yee -- yes, innocent until proven guilty -- leave the Senate and leave it now,” Steinberg said at a news conference in his office, where he was flanked by 14 fellow Democratic senators.
If Yee does not resign, Steinberg said, the Senate is prepared to suspend him during its next floor session Friday.
Those options leave little hope for Yee’s political career, which has stretched for nearly three decades, from his days as a reformist school board member in San Francisco to a stint on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, then to the Assembly, where he became the first Asian American to serve as speaker pro tem.
Yee, 65, was taken into custody in San Francisco on Wednesday and was seen being loaded into an unmarked law enforcement vehicle under an umbrella, his wrists handcuffed behind his back. He was set to be released on $500,000 bond after surrendering his passport.
His arrest was part of a sweeping sting that unfolded in the fog and rain Wednesday morning as hundreds of local and federal law enforcement agents descended simultaneously on numerous locations.
The targets also included the Sacramento office and the three-story San Francisco home of Yee, the first Chinese American elected to the state Senate and a leading candidate in the race to become California’s secretary of state.
Also charged was Keith Jackson, 49, a prominent political consultant who has worked to raise money for Yee’s political campaigns. It was Jackson, according to the federal complaint, who brokered some of the introductions between Yee and prospective donors who turned out to be undercover FBI agents.
Among Yee’s alleged actions: Seeking a proclamation in exchange for a $6,800 donation to one of his campaigns -- paid for by an undercover FBI agent -- and brokering a meeting between a prospective campaign donor and state legislators who had influence over medical marijuana legislation. That meeting also came in exchange for cash campaign donations that far exceeded legal limits — and were paid by the FBI, according to the indictment.
It was through his connection to Jackson that Yee became entangled in the larger FBI organized-crime sweep centered on Raymond Chow, who authorities say is an the ostentatious gangster also known as “Shrimp Boy.”
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.
Chow is described as a “judge” in the organization -- if one member of the group kills another, it’s up to Chow to determine whether the killing was justified.
All told, 26 people were identified as having violated federal statutes in the complaint. They were accused of participating in a free-ranging criminal ring that dabbled in a spectrum of activities, from illegal marijuana “grows” to a scheme to transport stolen liquor to China.
Times staff writers Scott Gold, Chris Megerian, Paige St. John in Sacramento and Richard Winton and Matt Stevens in Los Angeles contributed to this report.