SACRAMENTO – With strong bipartisan support, the California State Senate voted Friday to suspend three of its members who are facing criminal charges in three separate cases.
Sens. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) and Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) have been suspended with the passage of Senate Resolution 38 by a vote of 28-1. Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) issued the following statement:
“Suspending these three members puts the Senate on record that we unequivocally distance ourselves from the allegations in these cases. This suspension establishes without a doubt that only the Senate can allow these three members back, and only if they are cleared of criminal charges.
“I had earlier maintained with Sens. Wright and Calderon that a leave of absence was sufficient, giving my word that they would not come back to the Senate unless and until they were exonerated. But after the arrest and indictment of Sen. Yee this week, I recognize that a leave of absence is no longer sufficient. One case is an anomaly, two is a coincidence, but three? That’s not what this Senate is about, nor does it accurately reflect the integrity and honorable work of my colleagues.
“We have mandatory ethics training for senators and Senate staff on a regular basis, and it’s intensive training. But there are some things that you just can’t teach. I know of no ethics class that teaches about the illegality and the danger of gun-running and other such sordid activities.
“With such egregious criminal allegations against Sens. Calderon and Yee, I have made a strong call for them to resign and spare this proud institution and its members the stigma of association with their alleged actions. We take this action of suspension because they have not done so.
“I also recognize that the more satisfying and popular move would be immediate expulsion. Yet I reluctantly conclude that expulsion, as an irreversible act, would run afoul of the basic American principles of due process and the presumption that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“In the face of these allegations against three members, we can either bury our heads or we can hold them high. I choose to hold my head high and urge my Senate colleagues to do the same. We have a lot of work to do on behalf of the people of California and we intend to do it. At the same time we will not hesitate to take stock, look inside and to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect the integrity of this great institution.”
Steinberg also introduced a Senate constitutional amendment that would allow the Senate or Assembly to withhold the pay of any member who is suspended. The State Constitution currently gives no authority to the legislative houses to withhold pay of suspended members. SCA 17, if passed by a two-thirds vote of both houses, would then be placed on the ballot of the next election for consideration by California voters.
In addition, Steinberg announced that within the next few weeks, one day of floor session and committee hearings will be cancelled to allow for an intensive, office-by-office ethics review. This ethics review will be mandatory for all senators and all staff members to re-emphasize the rules, raise awareness of any unethical activity, and provide a confidential forum to discuss any concerns.
Gov. Jerry Brown issued the following statement after the Senate’s vote: “Given the extraordinary circumstances of these cases – and today’s unprecedented suspensions – the best way to restore public confidence is for these senators to resign.”
California’s U.S. senators, both Democrats, also called for Yee’s resignation.
“The allegations against Sen. Yee are shocking,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “It has become clear he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and for the good of his constituents should step down.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer said, “I agree with State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg that Leland Yee should immediately step down. If these allegations are true, they are beyond outrageous.
“I support the Justice Department’s crackdown on corruption, which sends an unequivocal message that there is absolutely no place in public life for criminals who violate the public trust and demean public service.”
A federal criminal complaint filed on March 24 was unsealed in San Francisco on March 26, charging 26 defendants with firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, and honest services fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson, and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge José M. Martinez.
The defendants include Raymond “Shrimpboy” Chow, the current dragonhead, or leader, of the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong organization (CKT), and Sen. Yee, who represents San Mateo County and part of San Francisco County.
With respect to Chow, according to the complaint, as FBI undercover agents infiltrated the CKT through introductions made by Chow and others, a pattern of alleged racketeering activity was uncovered.
According to the complaint, as the relationship developed among the primary undercover agent, Chow, and other defendants, the undercover agent informed the defendants that he was interested in generating income from illegal schemes. The undercover agent was inducted into the CKT as a “consultant.”
Thereafter, during the course of multiple undercover operations, the undercover agent was allegedly introduced to a number of the defendants in order to launder money, traffic narcotics, traffic in firearms, traffic purportedly stolen cigarettes and liquor, and engage in murder-for-hire schemes.
Chow also introduced Keith Jackson to the undercover agent. Jackson, the owner and operator of Jackson Consultancy, a San Francisco based consulting firm, is a “consultant” to the CKT. Jackson and his son, Brandon Jackson, allegedly responded to a request for weapons by the undercover agent, by indicating that Brandon Jackson and an associate would be able to accommodate his request.
Subsequently, Keith and Brandon Jackson and Marlon Sullivan sold various types of firearms and two ballistic vests to the undercover agent. Additionally, the three allegedly conspired to commit a purported murder-for-hire scheme requested by the undercover agent, in addition to other illegal activity, including the sale of stolen credit cards and the purported sale of cocaine to the three from the undercover agent.
Brandon Jackson introduced the undercover agent to Rinn Roeun, one of Brandon Jackson’s sources of supply for firearms. Roeun sold multiple firearms to the undercover agent and, during a series of conversations, told the undercover agent that he was willing to commit murder for a fee.
According to the complaint, in addition to his relationship with Chow and the CKT, Keith Jackson is also a close associate of Yee. From at least May 2011 through the present, Jackson has been involved in raising campaign funds for Yee.
With respect to Yee, the complaint alleges that over the course of 2012 and continuing to the present, Yee and Keith Jackson allegedly raised money and campaign funds for Yee’s California secretary of state campaign by soliciting donations from FBI undercover agents in exchange for multiple official acts and that Yee and Jackson were involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms.
Starting in May 2011, according to the complaint, and continuing for several months, Jackson solicited an undercover agent with the FBI to make contributions to Yee’s San Francisco mayoral campaign. These solicitations allegedly included asking the agent for donations in excess of the $500 individual donation limit. The agent declined to make any donations to Yee but introduced Jackson and Yee to a purported business associate, another undercover FBI agent. Jackson and Yee then solicited the second undercover agent for campaign contributions. This solicitation resulted in at least one personal donation in the amount of $5,000 to Yee’s mayoral campaign.
After Yee lost the Nov. 8, 2011 mayoral election, according to the complaint, he had at least $70,000 in debt from that campaign. In connection with efforts to retire the mayoral campaign debt, according to the complaint, Yee and Jackson allegedly agreed that Yee would make a telephone call to a manager with the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract under consideration with the second undercover agent’s purported client and would provide an official letter of support for the client, in exchange for a $10,000 campaign donation.
Yee allegedly made the call on Oct. 18, 2012, and provided the letter on or about Jan. 13, 2013. On Nov. 19, 2012, Jackson accepted the $10,000 cash donation.
According to the complaint, in a further attempt by Jackson and Yee to gain money from one of the undercover agents, in August 2013, Jackson told the undercover agent that Yee had a contact who deals in arms trafficking. Jackson requested that the undercover agent provide a campaign donation on behalf of Yee, for Yee to facilitate a meeting with the arms dealer with the intent of the undercover agent to purportedly purchase a large number of weapons.
During a meeting with the undercover agent, Yee and Jackson allegedly discussed details of the specific types of weapons the undercover agent was interested in buying and importing.
Yee is charged with:
▪ Conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license, and to illegally import firearms
▪ Scheme to defraud citizens of honest services (six counts)
Keith Jackson is charged with:
▪ Conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms
▪ Trafficking in firearms without a license
▪ Scheme to defraud citizens of honest services, in violation (six counts)
▪ Use of an interstate commerce facility for the commission of a murder-for-hire
▪ Conspiracy to distribute narcotics
Chow is charged with:
▪ Money laundering of funds believed to be proceeds of specified unlawful activity
▪ Money laundering (two counts)
▪ Conspiracy to receive and transport stolen property in interstate commerce (two counts)
▪ Conspiracy to traffic and trafficking in contraband cigarettes
The prosecution is the result of a five-year investigation by the FBI, IRS Criminal Investigations Division, San Francisco Police Department, Oakland Police Department, and Antioch Police Department.
All but eight of the defendants made their initial appearances in federal court in San Francisco in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael M. Cousins.
A complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the defendants are subject to the maximum penalties.
Yee faces up to 125 years in prison if convicted on all counts. He has been released on bail and his lawyer, Paul DeMeester, said that the senator will plead not guilty.
DeMeester also said that suspension from the Senate was “the right step for now” because it acknowledges the presumption of innocence.
Yee previously served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Education, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and California State Assembly. He was first elected to the State Senate in 2006, becoming the first Chinese American to serve in that chamber, and was re-elected in 2010. Due to term limits, Yee could not run for re-election. He was one of eight candidates — four Democrats, two Republicans, one Green and one with no party preference — for secretary of state.
Yee has formally withdrawn from the secretary of state race, but because the list of candidates had already been finalized, his name will remain on the ballot.
In the Senate, Yee has been serving as chair of the Human Services Committee and a member of the Business, Professions & Economic Development, Elections & Constitutional Amendments, and Public Employment & Retirement committees. He is one of 11 members of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, which consists of three senators and eight members of the Assembly, all Democrats.