FBI probe: More twists, turns than a movie plot

It’s right out of Hollywood: The FBI affidavit detailing the far-flung undercover probe that snared state Sen. Leland Yee on gun-running and corruption charges has colorful characters, plots within plots, new underworld slang, global connections and deep-cover operatives — just for starters.

During the past nine months, the state Capitol has been rocked by corruption charges. But the dramatic, 137-page document unveiled this week goes far beyond the Capitol-linked corruption allegations against Yee, who withdrew Thursday as a candidate for secretary of state.

It describes Chinatown-based gangsterism with global connections that stretch to Hong Kong and mainland China, and an elaborate network of criminals who offer fealty to the principal target of the five-year investigation: Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a well-known figure in Chinatown.

Yee, 65, accused of conspiring to smuggle guns internationally and doing official favors for money, is out on $500,000 bail. The termed-out veteran Democratic lawmaker, who knew Chow at least since May 2011, was arrested Wednesday as part of a Bay Area sweep targeting 26 people on an array of charges, including murder for hire, money laundering, possessing stolen property, weapons smuggling, dealing in contraband cigarettes, narcotics distribution, and more. Yee, who was $70,000 in debt from his unsuccessful San Francisco mayoral race, has raised about $800,000 for his secretary of state campaign, according to state financial disclosure documents.

Chow was described as the leader – or “Dragonhead” – of Chinatown’s Chee Kung Tong, or CKT, and he has multiple state and federal convictions for racketeering, drug trafficking and robbery. Others linked to Chee Kung Tong, which authorities describe as a criminal enterprise, also figure in the federal undercover probe. The CKT traces roots to a secret society formed in China in the mid-17th century, according to the FBI.

Chow, who repeatedly said publicly that he had turned over a new leaf and left his past behind, is accused of money laundering and transporting stolen property, among other charges. The FBI document says Chow describes himself as a “489” – which means he is a ranking member of the underworld, acknowledged by colleagues. Chow also is known as the Dai Lo, or “big brother.”

Despite the misgivings, Yee “never walked away from quid pro quo requests made by (the undercover operative),” according to the FBI. “In fact, Senator Yee provide the introduction sought by (the operative) and accepted cash payments…”

Despite his need for campaign cash, Yee clearly was skittish about getting paid for doing favors.

He (Yee) was “complaining about the way (the informant) openly discussed how much he was willing to pay Senator Yee for certain official acts. In terms of the latter, Senator Yee periodically complained to (Yee fundraiser) Keith Jackson and others that talk like that is ‘pay to play’ and said that he could not do that. He also added that any contributions could not be linked to any items, bills or amendments.”

Despite the misgivings, Yee “never walked away from quid pro quo requests made by (the undercover operative),” according to the FBI. “In fact, Senator Yee provide the introduction sought by (the operative) and accepted cash payments…”

In another conversation on getting political money, Yee counseled caution.

“We gotta be careful … you ought to be careful, too,” Yee told an FBI undercover operative posing as a businessman.

“Yee said his campaign was going to get audited because ‘we took public financing,’” the affidavit said, ‘and you just gotta be careful about that. I would simply say that as long as you cover your tracks, you’re fine…. But if you don’t think you can do that, don’t do it.’”

Yee, D-San Francisco, lobbied the state Department of Public Health in October 2012 over a contract. Yee called and wrote on his official letterhead, seeking approval of the contract for a “businessman” who actually was an FBI informant. In return Yee received a $10,000 payment, the affidavit alleged. Yee also backed an official Senate proclamation for CKT and received a $6,800 payment.

An FBI agent posing as a medical marijuana businessman from Arizona who wanted to expand into California wanted to meet lawmakers in the Capitol. Yee performed the introduction and he and his campaign fundraiser got $11,000 from the “businessman” who was an FBI operative. Later, Yee performed another introduction and got $10,000.

The Capitol was stunned by Yee’s arrest and, even more, by his alleged connections to Chow. Yee is the third Democratic senator tarred by felonies proven or alleged: In January, Sen. Rod Wright of Inglewood was convicted of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud. Last month, Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello was indicted on 24 federal counts that included corruption.

Sen. Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic leader of the reeling Senate, demanded Yee’s immediate ouster, saying Yee “should leave the Senate and leave it now.” Meanwhile,  Calderon and Wright both remain on leave but on the Senate payroll.

The Senate’s GOP leader, Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, has urged Yee’s suspension and plans to take it up on the floor Friday.

Nearly as shocking as Yee’s role was that of his fund-raiser, Keith Jackson, 49, a San Francisco political consultant and former local school board member.

Federal authorities say Jackson, who has no criminal record, engaged in wire fraud, conspiracy to smuggle narcotics, gun running and murder for hire.  His son Brandon, 27, also is accused of drug smuggling, gun running and discussing murder for hire. “He (a friend) could do it, or I could do it, too,” Brandon Jackson allegedly told an FBI informant who asked about getting someone killed and was willing to pay $25,000 to get it done.

The FBI undercover agents are plentiful, according to the affidavit. They succeeded in penetrating Chow’s organization, and they even taped proceedings inside the CKT. One FBI informant was inducted into the CKT as a consultant, as was Keith Jackson. Others portrayed business people and campaign donors.

At one point, looking for money for his secretary of state campaign, Yee urged Jackson to tap a “businessman” — an undercover FBI operative — for money.

Yee, rejecting suggestions of “pay to play,” said his strategy was to make it clear that donating to him represented “a long-term investment.”

“You know, I wanna work with you. I think you’re a great guy. I think we can help each other, but the only way you’re gonna, I’m gonna be able to help you, long term, is if I become secretary of state.”


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