Suspended California State Sen. Leland Yee, along with nearly two dozen others, heard the formal charges against them in U.S. District court on Tuesday.
Yee, who was indicted on multiple felony charges, pleaded not guilty, according to KGO-TV
. He appeared in court alongside his former political fundraiser Keith Jackson and crime figure Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, as the three have been accused of gun-running, political corruption, and paying off undercover FBI agents.
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Chow's attorney accused the federal government of entrapment and racism, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
"The government created the crime, the government financed the crime, and the government ensnared my client," Tony Serra, Chow's attorney, told reporters in a news conference after the arraignment. "We will put the government rightfully on trial."
Chow, who was honored by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee for his work with troubled youth after leaving prison in 2003, was investigated by the FBI for five years. The investigation began in Chinatown and led to Keith Jackson, an associate of Chow's and a consultant to Yee, and ultimately to the now-suspended state senator, according to the Chronicle.
Chow is charged with laundering $2.3 million, some from drug sales, some from federal agents posing as criminals. He has also been accused of selling stolen liquor and cigarettes. Yee is charged with conspiring with Jackson to accept $62,600 in bribes from agents in exchange for political favors, including a proclamation honoring Chow's association. Yee has also been charged for allegedly agreeing to import illegal firearms through another federal agent.
An FBI affidavit claims that Chow bragged to an undercover FBI agent that he had approved crimes by other associates while keeping himself in the clear.
Serra refuted the claim, saying that the FBI investigation came from the belief that Chinese organized crime controls San Francisco's Chinatown.
"It's a bunch of baloney," Serra said. "[This trial is] the best antigovernment case I've seen in maybe a decade."
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