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FBI sting ensnares California politician in cash-for-guns campaign contribution scheme

By Paul Elias

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 29 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

In this Wednesday, March 26, 2014 file photo, California state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, right, leaves the San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco. So far in 2014, each month has brought news of another arrest or conviction of a Democratic California state senator. The latest was Wednesday's arrest of Yee.

Ben Margot, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SAN FRANCISCO — The FBI began investigating a prominent California politician three years ago when ex-convict-turned-community-activist Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow introduced the politician's fundraiser to an associate, an East Coast Mafia figure, according to a federal complaint.

But the purported mobster was, in fact, an undercover FBI operative working to infiltrate the Chinatown fraternal group controlled by Chow and thought to be a front for a notorious Asian gang

After that May 25, 2011, meeting, though, the government quickly expanded its organized criminal investigation to target California state Sen. Leland Yee as well, setting up an elaborate sting operation using more than a dozen undercover agents operating from Hawaii, San Francisco, Sacramento and Atlanta.

"Sting operations usually have a little more credibility with jurors because you have FBI agents on one end of the transaction," Stanford University law professor Robert Weisberg said. "The agents also can script the conversations to ensure there is no ambiguity."

On Wednesday, Yee, Chow and two dozen other people connected to Chow's organization were charged with a wide-range of crimes.

The state Senate suspended Yee on Friday, a day after he announced he was dropping his campaign for California secretary of state.

Yee, D-San Francisco, is charged with bribery and setting up a cash-for-guns campaign contribution scheme in a case that started with that initial meeting in 2011 between Chow, the undercover agent and Keith Jackson, Yee's chief fundraiser and longtime political consultant.

Immediately after that meeting, Jackson began pressing the undercover agent for campaign contributions because Yee was running for mayor of San Francisco in an election to be held in November 2011. The undercover agent told Jackson he wasn't interested in helping Yee but had an Atlanta-based real estate developer who was looking for political help in California.

Jackson and the real estate developer quickly struck up a relationship, and the developer in September 2011 contributed $500, the maximum individual campaign contribution allowed. Yee called the developer three times over the next two days seeking more money.

The real estate developer, too, was an undercover FBI agent.

On Oct. 11, 2011, the developer hand-delivered a $5,000 check to Jackson made out to "Jackson Consultancy" but insisted it was meant for Yee. Two days later, the developer set up a "meet and greet" with 10 associates to meet with Yee. Each associate wrote Yee a $500 check. Each associate was an undercover FBI agent.

Yee lost the election and was left with a $70,000 debt.

By 2012, Yee and the developer were in constant contact, the complaint states. By this time, Yee was scrambling to retire his mayoral campaign debt so he could launch his run for California secretary of state.

The developer introduced Yee to a high-tech executive who was trying to win a contract from the California Department of Public Health. Yee is charged with agreeing to help the high-tech executive — another undercover FBI agent — with the contract in exchange for campaign contributions. Yee did call and write the person purportedly in charge of the contract decision, who was yet another undercover agent. On Nov. 19, 2012, the developer through the purported mobster gave Jackson $10,000 in cash allegedly meant for Yee.

The next year, on Jan. 22, Jackson introduced the East Coast mobster to Yee. The mobster portrayed himself to Yee as a "private wealth manager."

Over drinks in San Francisco's trendy Waterbar overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the three discussed exchanging campaign contributions for a proclamation honoring Chow's organization, all of which occurred later that year, according to court documents.

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