Prosecutors seek eight-year sentence for Leland Yee

Former state senator's district included Woodside and Portola Valley

By Julia Cheever | Bay City News Service

Prosecutors urged a federal judge on Wednesday to send former state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo County, to prison for eight years for his political corruption conviction, while his defense attorney argued a four- or five-year sentence would be sufficient.

Mr. Yee, 67, whose state Senate district included Woodside and Portola Valley, pleaded guilty in July to one count of participating in a racketeering conspiracy to accept bribes in exchange for political favors.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco is scheduled to sentence Mr. Yee on Feb. 24. The maximum sentence for the conviction is 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office and defense attorney James Lassart submitted their sentencing proposals in opposing briefs Wednesday.

The government attorneys called Mr. Yee "an elected official who knew perfectly well what it means to pay to play." They wrote that he "crossed that line" by accepting bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen between 2011 and 2014.

"Yee demonstrated he was a public servant who was willing to betray the trust of those who elected him by being prepared to sell his vote to the highest bidder," the government attorneys wrote.

Defense attorney Lassart argued, however, that a term of between four years and three months and five years and three months would meet the goal of a punishment that is sufficient but not greater than necessary.

Mr. Lassart wrote that Mr. Yee takes full responsibility for his actions and "deeply regrets his conduct," but argued that Mr. Yee's "long history of public service" should be taken into account.

Mr. Yee was one of 29 people charged in a wide-ranging 2014 indictment that included both corruption charges against the senator and his fundraiser, Keith Jackson, and organized-crime charges against Chinatown Chee Kung Tong leader Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow and associates.

Mr. Chow is the only defendant to go to trial thus far. He was convicted by a jury in Judge Breyer's court in January of 162 counts, including organized-crime racketeering conspiracy and the 2006 murder of his predecessor as leader of the Chee Kung Tong civic association.

Mr. Chow will be sentenced by Judge Breyer on March 23.

At least a dozen other defendants have pleaded guilty to various charges, including Mr. Jackson.

Mr. Jackson, a political consultant and former San Francisco school board president, pleaded guilty to the same racketeering conspiracy charge as Mr. Yee and will also be sentenced next week.

Mr. Jackson's attorneys on Wednesday proposed a six-year sentence for him and prosecutors asked for 10 years.

In their bid for an eight-year term for Mr. Yee, prosecutors wrote that the senator needed money to retire a $70,000 campaign debt from his unsuccessful mayoral run in 2011 and to pay for his race for secretary of state in 2014.

Mr. Yee dropped out of that campaign and was suspended by the state Senate soon after being arrested on March 26, 2014.

In a written plea agreement filed on the date of his July 1 guilty plea, Mr. Yee admitted to engaging in seven specific racketeering acts as part of the conspiracy and to gaining payments of $34,600 for four of those acts.

The acknowledged bribes included $10,000 to vouch for a supposed businessman seeking a state Public Health Department grant; $6,800 for a certificate honoring the Chee Kung Tong; $11,000 for a meeting to discuss potential statewide marijuana legislation; and $6,800 for arranging a meeting to plan a never-completed arms deal to buy guns that would be smuggled from the Philippines.

The 47-page prosecution brief gives more details of the incidents, including previously undisclosed quotations from wiretaps and secret recordings.

Mr. Yee is described as telling an undercover agent during a March 2014 discussion of the planned arms deal that he appreciated contributions to his secretary of state campaign.

He is quoted as saying, "I can be of help to you for ten months or I can be of help to you for eight years. I think eight years is a lot better than ten months."

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