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Monday, June 10, 2024 | Back issues
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Former Sen. Leland Yee Gets|5 Years for Racketeering

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge showed no leniency to former state Sen. Leland Yee, calling him "venal" and "hypocritical" before sentencing him to 60 months in prison for racketeering.

"The crimes you committed have resulted in essentially an attack on democratic institutions," U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer told Yee on Wednesday. "The public has to have trust in the integrity of the institution. Mr. Yee, you abused that trust."

Yee, 67, pleaded guilty in July 2015 to a count of federal racketeering for accepting bribes from undercover FBI agents between 2012 and his arrest in March 2014.

The government claimed that Yee agreed to vote on certain legislation, help phony companies get state grants and contracts, and offered to import guns from a suspected terrorist group in the Philippines in exchange for campaign donations.

Yee had been looking to retire debt from a failed 2011 San Francisco mayoral bid and raise money for his subsequent campaign for secretary of state. He admitted to the crimes in a plea agreement.

"Votes are not for sale," Breyer said. "Your conduct indicating it was for sale was a violation of the public trust."

He added that Yee's participation in the weapons-trafficking conspiracy was "inexplicable" given his publicly harsh stance on gun control.

"The hypocritical position on your part to be for gun control and that automatic weapons would be brought into the United States is frightening and unfathomable. I cannot tell you how disturbing it is," Breyer said. "You were willing to go entirely contrary to your stated position for money, and that is the most venal and dangerous thing you've done."

Yee has 30 days to surrender and begin his sentence. On Wednesday, he begged Breyer for leniency.

"I have accepted and understand the crimes I've committed. Nothing will ever take away those crimes and nothing I do will ever take away the pain I've caused to my family, friends, constituents and supporters," Yee said.

He urged Breyer to consider his entire life, and "the 67 years I've dedicated to the community of San Francisco and the state of California."

Yee said he planned to "reach out to individuals I've hurt and organizations I've shamed," and spend time caring for his sick wife Maxine.

"Much of my life has been away from her. What I want to do is give Maxine more help than I've given her in the past," Yee said, adding that he is the only able-bodied person in the family who could care for her.

Breyer said he would not take Yee's family life into consideration.

"I do not want to see your wife and family hurt. But when anyone is faced with a choice, they ought to think that if they do the thing which is illegal, they'd be harming their family as well as themselves," Breyer said.

The government had recommended an eight-year sentence for Yee, but Yee's attorney's argued that prosecutors had no evidence that Yee accepted more than $100,000 or agreed to import 200 guns. Instead, they said Yee's gun deal involved 100 rifles, and that the government could only account for $44,000 in bribes in connection with the racketeering charge.

Yee's attorney James Lassart said the former lawmaker had already been brought to ruin by the case and that "he shouldn't be over-punished because he's a public official."

Also sentenced Wednesday was Yee's political consultant, Keith Jackson, a former president of the San Francisco School Board.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen called the 49-year-old Jackson "the quintessential bag man," as he was accused of setting up the meetings between Yee and the agents and helping to solicit the bribes. He was also accused of buying guns and trafficking cocaine for undercover agents, and engaging in a murder-for-hire scheme alongside his 28-year-old son, Brandon Jackson.

Jackson pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering this past summer.

"I take full responsibility for my actions, and I'm not the same man that I was when I first came here," Jackson told Breyer. "I know I could have walked away and I should have walked away and I didn't. I just want to move forward with my life."

Breyer sentenced Jackson to nine years, bringing anguished cries from the gallery, which was packed with Jackson's family members and supporters.

"Your conduct is unfathomable," Breyer said. "There are no limits that I've seen to the breadth of your criminal acts. It was akin to being a one-person crime wave."

He went on to upbraid Jackson for involving his son in crime. Jackson faced Breyer with his hands clasped and nodded as Breyer said, "It wasn't just a lack of guidance, it was malevolent. As a parent I just don't get it."

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