Yee Pleads Not Guilty to Racketeering Charge
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Reporters followed suspended State Sen. Leland Yee after a hearing Thursday morning in federal court, but he declined to comment on an additional racketeering charge that a grand jury added to an indictment against him and 28 other defendants last week.
Yee pleaded not guilty to all charges, including wire fraud and conspiracy to deal in firearms. The embattled senator from San Francisco is accused of offering to help undercover FBI agents buy assault weapons from suspected terrorist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, along with doing political favors and voting on certain legislative bills in exchange for campaign donations.
Investigators said Yee allegedly told undercover agents that he needed to retire a $32,000 debt from his failed 2011 mayoral bid before he could announce his intent to run for Secretary of State. He supposedly agreed to vote for several bills, including medical marijuana legislation, and allegedly helped a phony software company called Well Tech to obtain state government grants and contracts.
The solicitations for donations were allegedly made by his political consultant Keith Jackson, a former San Francisco school board president who is also indicted for narcotics conspiracy, wire fraud, murder for hire and conspiracy to import firearms. Jackson pleaded not guilty Monday.
All the charges against Yee and Jackson stem from a five-year FBI investigation that ensnared former Chinatown gangster Raymond "Shrimp-Boy" Chow, the leader of a Chinese-American fraternal organization whose headquarters were raided in March. Chow was indicted on charges of racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes.
Chow pleaded not guilty at a hearing Wednesday, and his lawyers claim that the FBI has a weak case against Chow who they claim never actually committed any crimes himself.
Before Yee's hearing Thursday morning, reporters lamented that the senator used a private entrance into the federal building to avoid the throng of cameramen gathered outside.
Yee stood with the public in the hallway before the hearing, laughing and joking with his lawyers, but hurried out of the courtroom after entering his plea. Reporters were close behind, asking for comment about his defense strategy.
"No comment," Yee said.