A California state senator, known for his gun control legislation, has been arrested on a host of charges including plotting to smuggle guns into the country via Islamic terror groups.
After a nearly four-year FBI investigation, California state Sen. Leland Yee (D) was charged Wednesday with six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of honest services, conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, according to a 137-page affidavit (pdf) filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office against Yee and other conspirators.
If convicted of all charges he faces up to 125 years in prison as well as fines exceeding $1.25 million.
Yee is tied to one Kwok Cheung Chow, a 54-year-old Chinese citizen better known by his underworld name of “Shrimp Boy.” Chow is the leader or “Dragonhead” of the Ghee Kung Tong, a San Francisco organization tied to the Triad. Chow has a confirmed criminal pedigree that includes racketeering, heroin distribution, running a prostitution ring, robbery and arson among others.
Besides Yee and Chow, the a U.S. Attorney lists 24 other conspirators on charges that run from murder for hire to money laundering and conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
The affidavit maintains that Yee, who incurred approximately $70,000 in debts from a failed 2011 San Francisco mayoral run, as well as other debts incurred in his current bid for California Secretary of State, allegedly took over $40,000 in donations, many in cash, from undercover agents during the course of the investigation. These payoffs were in exchange for certain official acts including making phone calls to state officials to influence contracts.
Finally, Yee facilitated a meeting with an arms dealer contact of his and undercover agents for buying up to $2.5 million worth weapons that ranged from small arms to missile launchers.
“Do you think we can make money?” asked Yee of federal undercover agents according the affidavit. “I think we can make some money. Do you think we can get the goods? I think we can get the goods.”
The arms were to come from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a rebel group located in the Philippines. The United States has been assisting the Philippine military in combating a host of Islamic terror groups in that archipelago nation since 2002, and no less than 17 U.S. service members have lost their lives there in that ongoing fight.
In the affidavit, Yee spoke of going to the island of Mindanao, which he described as “a war zone,” and shooting weapons there similar to the ones he was attempting to deal. Yee later claimed the rebels were being financed by Mummar Gaddafi before that Libyan dictator’s death and were well-supplied. With a pending peace treaty with the government, the group had excess weapons in its arsenal that could be bought.
“There’s a part of me that wants to be like you,” Yee allegedly said to a Philippine underworld contact in a meeting witnessed by the FBI’s undercover agent. “You know how I’m going to be like you? Just be a free agent there.”
The investigation concluded on March 14, 2014, with Yee, two associates and an undercover agent meeting in a San Francisco restaurant to finalize plans for how Yee’s finder’s fee of up to $100,000 would be broken up into legitimate campaign donations and a shopping list of weapons put together to pass to his Philippine contacts.
This final act led to the arrests of the conspirators this week.
With the powerful revelations held in the affidavit, it may come as a surprise that Yee has always been a champion of gun control.
As an Assemblyman, Yee helped to co-author the state’s controversial Microstamping law that required new semi-automatic handguns to be equipped with ballistics identification technology. This law, now in effect by a determination from the state Attorney General, is causing handgun manufacturers to drop products off of the state’s list of approved firearms due to issues with the technology, and in turn is facing a lawsuit in federal court.
In 2006, Yee was named to the Gun Violence Prevention Honor Roll by the Brady Campaign for his work on gun control issues. This included increased record keeping, efforts to ban classes of firearms over cosmetic traits, and others.
He even took the fight against guns to the virtual realm, campaigning against violent video games.
The Brady Campaign did not return Guns.com’s requests for comment on Yee or his legal troubles.
Meanwhile, at least one pro-gun group alluded to the hypocrisy of this situation.
“It seems Sen. Yee was not so anti-gun after all,” said Larry Keane, Senior Vice President, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel to the National Shooting Sports Foundation to Guns.com Thursday. “The citizens of California would appear to have more to fear from Sen. Yee than they do from the lawful sale of modern sporting rifles to law abiding citizens.”
For his part, Yee appeared in U.S. District Court in San Francisco for his arraignment Wednesday, after which he was released on a $500,000 bond. He then left the Courthouse in his blue BMW.
“Our top priority was to get the senator released, and we’ve accomplished that,” Yee’s attorney Paul DeMeester said Wednesday. “The future will hold a lot of work.”
In the meantime, California State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and 14 ranking Democrats of that body are asking Yee to resign his position. “Senator Yee should leave the Senate and leave it now,” said Steinberg.