Veteran California state Sen. Leland Yee, who lost a San Francisco mayoral bid in 2011 and is now running for secretary of state, was arrested on public corruption charges Wednesday as part of a massive FBI sting, reports said.
Yee, 65, the first Chinese-American ever elected to the state Senate, was among more than two dozen defendants charged in a federal criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, NBC News reported.
Among the 26 defendants rounded up in raids were Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, a notorious former Chinatown gangster in San Francisco, and Keith Jackson, a well-known political consultant who, according to a federal complaint, has been involved in raising campaign funds for Yee, NBC News reported.
The federal complaint charged Yee with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, as well as a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.
Yee, a Democrat, was ordered held on $500,000 bail. He could be locked up for more than 100 years if convicted of all charges.
Officers from the California Highway Patrol and Sergeant at Arms were stationed outside Yee's state Capitol office in Sacramento on Wednesday morning as FBI agents hauled out computers and nine boxes of documents, KCRA-TV reported
Other defendants arrested were hit with charges of firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, and honest services fraud, the FBI said.
Yee's arrest stunned the Chinese-American community where the politician is revered, David Lee, director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee, told NBC News.
"People are waiting to see what happens, and they are hoping for the best, that the charges turn out not to be true," he said.
Yee and Jackson allegedly were raising money and campaign funds for Yee's secretary of state campaign by soliciting donations from undercover FBI agents in exchange for official acts, the complaint charges.
The complaint also charges both were involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms. Yee allegedly tried to help an undercover agent obtain weapons from a Muslim rebel
According to the complaint, starting in May 2011 and continuing for several months, Jackson asked an undercover FBI agent to make contributions to Yee's mayoral campaign.
The agent declined, but introduced Jackson and Yee to a business associate — also an undercover agent. This time, the donation plea resulted in at least one personal $5,000 donation, the complaint alleges.
The complaint alleges Yee also tried to get out from under a $70,000 debt after losing the November 2011 race, making a call to the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract with the second undercover agent's purported client — and then writing an official letter of support in exchange for a $10,000 campaign donation.
Yee is best-known publicly for his efforts to strengthen open records, government transparency and whistleblower protection laws, including legislation to close a loophole in state public records laws after the CSU Stanislaus Foundation refused to release its $75,000 speaking contract with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2010, the reports said.
Democrat Derek Cressman, one of several candidates running for secretary of state, called Yee's arrest a "wake-up call."
"We are clearly beyond the point of looking at one bad apple and instead looking at a corrupt institution in the California Senate," he said, NBC News reported.
"The constant begging for campaign cash clearly has a corrosive effect on a person's soul, and the only solution is to get big money out of our politics once and for all," Cressman said.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, noting Yee's long public service, said he was "sorry to see that tainted by these allegations."
"This is obviously a very negative and upsetting development here today," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told KCRA. "I've got 37 senators up here from both parties who work hard, work with integrity and produce a lot on behalf of their districts and the people of California."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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