California Sen. Leland Yee has been charged with a slew of crimes including taking bribes, committing fraud and arms trafficking. The latter stands out the most as Yee is a major proponent for gun control, introducing a massive bill — pre-Sandy Hook — that would have effectively banned the AR-style rifle in The Golden State.
It’s the most compelling detail to many people due to the sheer hypocrisy. However, the gun trafficking charge is also the least damning for Yee. The senator faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the fraud and bribery charges, but only up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for allegedly attempting to run guns.
The charge is, more or less, icing on the cake for gun groups who wholeheartedly disagreed with his gun policies and San Franciscans agitated by his corruption.
The 137-page affidavit details the FBI’s 4-year investigation of a criminal organization in San Francisco, its ties to Yee, and on Yee’s corruption. It reads like a crime novel following two undercover agents who immerse themselves in the city’s seedy underbelly. One agent poses as a political donor, exploring the depths of Yee’s corruption and how it affects state legislation. While the other exposes criminal mischief, i.e. money laundering, drugs, stolen goods and guns, which ultimately leads him to meet with Yee about an arms trafficker.
The latter agent’s story began May 2010 when he met Kwok Cheung Chow, aka “Shrimp Boy,” the head of the criminal organization Chee Kung Tong in San Francisco. The agent embeds himself with Chow’s people and various dealings and meetings, eventually discussing the arms deal with Yee three years later.
Keith Jackson, Yee’s political consultant, is the intermediary that brings them together around May 2011, but it isn’t until summer 2013 that Yee’s gun connection is introduced in the conversation. Over time, Jackson and the agent have various transactions such as money laundering, drug investments, gun sales and campaign contributions. It eventually adds up to meet the probable cause needed for a formal charge.
June 25, 2013 – After an arms sale, Jackson told the agent that he was hoping that he could raise more money for Yee’s campaign, suggesting that the state senator is open for business.
Aug. 2, 2013 – The agent met with Jackson to discuss gun sales and identifies the source of the small cache he’s already purchased as Rinn Rouen. But Jackson also tosses out the idea that Yee has a connection who could ship large stockpiles of weapons. Jackson explained that Yee met the dealers “a long time ago” and they had been working together.
Aug. 5, 2013 – A few days later, the agent met Jackson to purchase more guns and get more information about Yee’s connection. Jackson told the agent that Yee would facilitate a meeting with the arms dealer, but only if he made additional contributions to Yee’s California Secretary of State campaign.
Sept. 13, 2013 – Having seen no progress on the meeting, the agent told Jackson that he was skeptical about Yee’s ability and desire to introduce him to the arms dealer. Jackson tried to salvage the opportunity, saying that Yee was the one who wanted to do it and explained that the trafficker was “the real deal.” They just wanted to move at a slow pace.
Oct. 17, 2013 – The agent met Jackson and another unsavory character, Marlon Sullivan, at a restaurant in San Francisco, to talk shop about their criminal lives.
Jackson and Sullivan were upset with lack of progress regarding a coke deal with the agent’s supplier – a fictitious source. The agent explained that his partner had to revamp his cocaine distribution strategy due to a run-in with law enforcement. With money in hand and a Postmaster in Memphis ready and willing, Jackson and Sullivan were disappointed about the loss.
The agent then asked about “Uncle Leland” brokering a meeting with his gun guy. To which Jackson replied that the guy was in the middle of shipping weapons to the Philippines, where the government was fighting a Muslim rebel group.
“That’s a good one for us,” Jackson said. “I will make it happen.”
Still, the agent said that he believed Yee was all about taking money from people and not delivering on his promises.
Dec. 3, 2013 – The agent met with Jackson at a hotel in San Francisco to discuss a possible coke deal. Jackson and his cohorts had enough for 10 kilograms of coke, but still had to work out the finances. You see, Jackson’s business partner, and son, owed $9,000 to another guy about a different drug deal. But the agent wouldn’t budge: $26,500 per kilogram.
The conversation quickly transitioned to Yee’s gun deal. Jackson said he talked to Yee and reaffirmed that the gun trafficker was “the real deal.” He said that Yee was actually going to meet with his connection to arrange everything. However, Jackson added that Yee still had reservations about the agent, but was growing to like him since the agent was willing to buy the guns, give him a finder’s fee, and would also launder all the cash.
Dec. 13, 2013 - Ten days later, Jackson and his criminal son Brandon met with the agent at Roy’s Restaurant in San Francisco for Hawaiian fusion cuisine and to discuss Yee’s gun trafficker.
Jackson told the agent that Yee stated he was going to contact the trafficker that day, explaining that Yee had a Filipino associate supplying “heavy” weaponry to the rebel groups in the Philippines.
The agent slipped Jackson $1,000 in a white envelope, and Jackson quickly added that Yee’s guy had access to cargo containers full of weapons.
Dec. 17, 2013 – A few days later, the agent met with Jackson and Sullivan at a restaurant in San Francisco, mainly to get closer to the arms dealer. Right off the bat, the agent handed Jackson a check made out to “Leland Yee, Secretary of State” for $5,000.
Understanding that the check was payment for the meeting, Jackson said, “We just talked about that today.” And informed the agent that Yee would be meeting the arms dealer in a few days.
Shortly after, Jackson got a phone call from Yee, who wanted to talk to the agent.
The agent told him that he raised $5,000 for the Yee campaign and was looking forward to meeting their “mutual friends.”
Jan. 22, 2014 – After months of talking with intermediaries, the agent finally met with the senator himself at a coffee shop in the city.
But before Yee arrived, Jackson told the agent that the gun source was extremely cautious about meeting new people, so he himself had to be involved every step of the way.
Then Yee walked in. He told the agent that he recently talked with the arms dealer, explaining that he and the dealer had developed a close relationship after meeting a number of years ago.
“(He) has things that you guys want,” Yee said, but cautioned that doing business with him was not easy. “This was not a business for ‘the faint of heart.’”
The arms dealer will work with Jackson because he trusts Jackson, Yee said.
But the agent needed the source. He assured Yee that he understood the importance of remaining safe, but he wasn’t sure that Jackson could adequately address his needs.
The arms dealer is “low-key” and has been trafficking weapons for quite a while, Yee explained. “We’re interested,” he said, but the dealer has to talk to “his folks. He’s going to rely on me, because ultimately it’s going to be me.”
The ability to traffic weapons is based on trust and trust takes time.
The agent continued to push. He told the senator that he would be compensated for brokering the relationship, and he reminded him that he had already put up the cash, so Yee should stay true to his word.
Yee agreed that the agent was right to be suspicious, but assured him that the arms dealer was real and he wasn’t sending him on a “wild goose chase.”
“I know what he could do. I have seen what he has done in the past on other products and this guy has the relationships,” Yee said.
This arms dealer had contacts in Russia, Ukraine, Boston and Southern California.
The agent pushed for a commitment.
“Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money. Do I think we can get the goods? I think we can get the goods,” Yee said, adding the hurdles were timing and finding the right people. “I’m the man.”
Yee then began describing what the agent and Jackson would be getting into after doing business with the international arms dealers.
The last time he visited the Philippines “armed guards with machine guns” surrounded him. “Because I’m getting a little more into this, it’s not just Russia; the Muslim countries have sources too. And so, that has brought to my attention recently.”
Jackson asked the agent what he wanted.
“Shoulder fired” weapons or missiles, the agent responded.
“Automatic weapons?” Yee asked, as opposed to semi-auto.
Jackson asked how much.
Between $500,000 to $2 million worth of weapons, the agent said.
Talk to Jackson about specifics and quantity, Yee interrupted. He advised on a communications structure: The agent was to talk to Jackson, Jackson talk to Yee, and Yee to talk to the arms dealer.
“I think we ought to focus our attention on developing this relationship,” Yee said.
The agent said he appreciated the opportunity with the arms dealer, which is why he contributed to Yee’s campaign fund.
Yee agreed, saying he also saw their relationship as beneficial, but make sure money is given directly to Jackson because he didn’t want to go to jail.
The agent explained he took care of those who take care of him, and would give both Yee and Jackson “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for their help. But the arms deal needs to go down.
Yee tried to steer the conversation, saying once he was elected California Secretary of State, he would appoint the agent to a Russian delegation.
The agent pressed. He said he needed something more immediate, like an introduction to the arms dealer.
“Look, he knows what I want. I have opened the discussion. What I got to help him understand is that Keith is a conduit to other people,” Yee explained.
The agent offered $100,000 for the first deal.
“Alright, take care,” Yee said, ending the meeting.
Feb. 12, 2014 – The next meeting was less eventful. After organizing a coke deal, the agent and Jackson attended a sporting event. During the game, they discussed the deal again with Yee’s arms dealer.
Jackson explained that the deal was ready, but needed $50,000 for Yee’s campaign fund.
The agent complied and said that there’d be more money once the first shipment was complete.
Feb. 25, 2014 – The agent met with Jackson at a restaurant in San Francisco, and they waited together for Yee to arrive.
Jackson had grown concerned with the senator delaying the meeting with the arms dealer because it was hindering the progress of his coke deal. While he remained enthusiastic for the arms deal, the coke deal was still very important to him and he was being pressured to make it happen. Nonetheless, Jackson emphasized that the arms dealer was the “real deal.”
When the senator arrived, the agent asked for an update.
Yee was being cautious – extra cautious. He said they needed to be careful because of the recent indictment and conviction of another California state senator for corruption. He added that he thought that other senator was now wearing a wire for the FBI.
The problem, as Yee pointed out, was that that other senator involved too many people in his schemes. That was part of the reason Yee took an “agnostic” stance on the agent’s desire for weapons.
“People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don’t care. People need certain things,” Yee said.
However, Yee advised that the deal probably wouldn’t happen until the end of the year. He wanted to wait for everything and everybody to get onboard with the plan.
“What would it take to make you comfortable?” Yee asked.
The agent jumped right to it. To talk to the dealer about logistical issues related to trafficking the guns internationally, the agent said. And to know what the dealer could supply, emphasizing he wanted “mobile, light and powerful” weapons.
Yee explained that the dealer probably won’t talk about product during the first meeting, and if he had asked, the dealer would probably think the agent was in fact an “agent.”
The agent pushed for the meeting, saying he’d spend $2 million on the first shipment of weapons.
The senator stalled, saying the dealer was “doing stuff” in a foreign country. But ultimately agreed to facilitate a meeting.
“When?” the agent asked, and said he needed Yee to make the meeting happen.
Still, the senator worried. The more people involved in the weapons deal, the greater the chances of getting caught.
The agent assured Yee that he has just as much to lose if they got caught. He told the senator that he had a great life and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.
Yee said that he was unhappy with his life. “There’s a part of me that wants to be like you. You know how I’m going to be like you? Just be a free-agent out there.”
Yee said he wanted to escape to the Philippines.
Jackson reiterated the importance of the arms deal.
Yee again expressed worry. He attributed his long career in public office to being careful and cautious. And said if he’s caught, the agent may be implicated as well.
The agent asked for the deal and assured the senator he would not talk specifics like “hell-fire missiles” during the meeting.
Yee said he’d find a way to make it happen.
March 4, 2014 – Jackson called the agent, telling him that Yee wanted to shift to another source for the weapons deal, and that the agent would meet with Yee and the source tomorrow.
March 5, 2014 – The next day, the agent met Jackson at a hotel restaurant in San Francisco. Before Yee arrived he had to finish filing the proper documents to officially run for California Secretary of State. In the meantime, Jackson explained to the agent that they’re going with a new dealer because the other source was too busy.
Jackson explained that the agent will have a point of contact in the U.S., and one in the Philippines.
The agent learned that the new dealer had associates in the Philippines who needed money to fund their effort to overthrow the Philippine government.
When Yee arrived, he described the depth of his relationship with the arms dealer. Although he wasn’t the one Yee originally had in mind, he did trust him – a Daly City dentist and fromer San Mateo County Commissioner named Dr. Wilson Lim.
The two met two years ago when Yee visited Mindanao, where Lim is from, by an invitation from government officials. When he toured the area, armed guards accompanied him all along the way due to the constant threat of attack.
Mindanao is the second largest island in the Philippines and has a large Muslim population, some of which are fighting the government for control of the area. The senator described it as a “war zone.”
“(The Muslim rebels) have no problem kidnapping individuals, killing individuals and extorting them for ransom,” Yee said.
Lim’s source for the weapons was a Philippine citizen who used to sell guns to clients in Florida, meaning he has ties there. The plan was for Lim’s contact to ship weapons from the port of Cagayan de Oro, which is on the north end of Mindanao, to Florida and then off to wherever the agent wants.
“The ideal way of handling it,” Yee said.
The weapons need to be shipped to the Port of Newark, New Jersey, the agent said because his family has connections there. From Newark, a portion of the weapons would be shipped to Sicily and then on to North Africa.
Yee told the agent that it would be easier if he picked up the weapons in the Philippines. He then added that Lim was surprised to hear the agent wanted $2 million for the initial purchase – a sum that’s quite large and might bring about unwanted attention.
“We can’t catch attention to any of this stuff,” Yee said, and reiterated that it would be best if the agent picked up the shipment from the port of Cagayan de Oro. Yee then warned that the Philippines are a corrupt place and would have to pay people off at every level in this deal.
The agent replied that he wasn’t worried about getting the weapons to the states, and shifted the conversation. He asked about the types of weapons available.
Yee said his dealer has automatic weapons available, those that are equivalent of the M16 service rifle.
What about shoulder-fired missiles and rocket launchers? the agent asked.
“I told (Lim) about rocket launchers and things like that,” Yee said, and asked the agent to provide a list of items and how the agent would be submitting payment.
Two million in cash, the agent replied, and asked about artillery.
Mindanao is a “war zone,” Yee said, and asked if this was the agent’s first weapons deal.
The agent explained that his family used to buy Russian weapons through Canada.
Africa is a largely untapped market, Yee said and explained that when he became California’s Secretary of State that he could be an even greater resource for the agent, and even aid in shipping weapons directly to Africa. He then stressed the importance of completing this first transaction.
The agent agreed. He assured the senator that he would pick up the weapons in the Philippines and then ship them back to the U.S. before sending them to North Africa.
There are approximately 100 rifles available, Yee said, adding that the Muslims in Mindanao had access to a lot of money. In fact, Muammar Gaddafi financed them before he died.
The agent asked to have a direct conversation with Lim.
The senator hesitated. He explained that everything he’s been saying was true. Lim is a gun lover, he said, with no moral arguments about selling weapons. Yee said he himself even had the chance to shoot some of the rifles he’s been talking about in Midanao.
Yee excused himself and the agent and Jackson finished dinner together.
March 11, 2014 – Finally, the agent met with the senator, Jackson and the arms dealer, Lim, at a restaurant in San Francisco.
Yee introduced Lim to the agent, describing him as a highly trusted person. Lim is a kind-looking, older man. Soft eyes with grey in his eyebrows and a quiet smile.
The agent stressed the importance of remaining safe during all aspects of the weapons-trafficking deal.
Lim said that the weapons could be shipped to Manila or to the Port of Cagayan de Oro, but Manila would be the safest option. And explained that he’d contact his nephew – the contact in the Philippines – who would get the weapons from a Captain in the Philippine military.
Can you put a list of together? Lim asked.
But the deal won’t happen until after the California Secretary of State election, Yee interrupted.
Both Lim and Yee wanted to deal in smaller amounts of weapons to avoid unwanted attention in the Philippines.
What about the Muslim organizations in Mindanao? the agent asked.
“M.I.L.F” the senator said.
The agent understood the acronym to mean “Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”
There are several factions within MILF, the senator explained, with Lim explaining that they are friends, but not personal associates.
What weapons are available? the agent asked.
The Israeli-made Tavor assault rifle is very common in the Philippines, Lim said, describing it as an equivalent to the M16.
Anything bigger? the agent asked.
“All kinds of things, we just have to look for it,” Lim answered, and advised no requests over the phone.
The agent asked if Lim would accompany him in the Philippines.
Lim asked if the agent was wanted by law enforcement, because people have to be careful in the Philippines.
Yee agreed, adding that there’s a high probability of being kidnapped.
The list will go to Keith Jackson, the agent informed Lim, and directed Lim to hand deliver the letter to his nephew in the Philippines.
But Yee explained that Lim won’t go to the Philippines without him, and that he himself wouldn’t be ready to go until November. “Once things start to move, it’s going to attract attention. We just got to be extra-extra careful.”
Yee added, that Manila would be safer, but “we have more control in Cagayan de Oro than Manila.”
Yee asked the agent to bring money to the Philippines.
Not a problem, the agent replied.
Lim explained that the agent would meet with a MILF leader.
In turn, the agent inquired about the recent peace treaty signed by the Filipino government and the Muslim rebel groups.
There’s a backstory to that, the senator explained. The Philippine government secretly funded some of the Muslim groups to keep the war going in an effort to keep the people distracted from all the corruption within government. Plus, several factions didn’t sign the treaty.
The weapons will be provided by the Philippine military, Lim said.
“Light, mobile and devastating,” the agent repeated to Lim about the weapons he wanted. He reminded Lim that a list will be ready, and advised Lim to have an associate hand deliver it if he cannot.
Yee explained that Lim needs time to set up the infrastructure necessary for the deal, and then told Lim not to get too involved because he is a U.S. citizen – reminding everyone that he wanted to “protect the entire enterprise.”
Yee wanted several layers of protection to shield Lim and anyone else involved from trouble.
Lim asked the agent if he could bring a ship to the Philippines.
The agent reminded Lim that his family controls a large portion of the Port of Newark.
You in the mafia? Lim asked.
Associated with the mafia, the agent said.
March 14, 2014 – The agent met with Yee, Jackson and Jackson’s criminal son Brandon at a restaurant in San Francisco. Together they openly discussed how’d they divide the agent’s cash into legitimate campaign donations.
There’s $6,800 and a list of weapons ready for Lim, the agent told Yee.
Yee said that the cash would go to one of his kids and he’ll write a check to the campaign fund.
A short while later the senator and the agent made a Xerox copy of the list.
Lim will mail the letter to his nephew in the Philippines, the senator said.
March 26, 2014 – Sen. Leland Yee, Dr. Wilson Lim and Keith Jackson were arrested for conspiracy to traffic weapons.
More than 20 people were arrested overall as a result of the entire investigation.