BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU – The California state senator arrested and arraigned Wednesday for a host of federal charges, including conspiracy, political corruption and gun running, was previously arrested in Hawaii.
Leland Yee, the Senate Democratic legislative majority who ran for mayor of San Francisco in 2011, and was currently campaigning to become California’s secretary of state, was arrested in a criminal sting operation Wednesday along with 25 others including notorious gangster referred to on the street as “Shrimp Boy.”
FBI Special Agent Emmanuel Pascua said in an affidavit there was probable cause to believe Yee engaged in wire fraud, participated in a conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and illegally import firearms. In a 137-page indictment, Yee also is accused of participating in a wide sweeping conspiracy that included political corruption, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution, and contraband cigarettes trafficking.
Court records show Yee is charged with “conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms,” which is punishable by up to five years and $250,000 fine; and six counts of honest services fraud, with each corruption charge punishable by as much as 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Yee’s first arrest and conviction was nearly two decades earlier when he was in Hawaii, albeit for a much less serious crime.
A Freedom for Information Act request to Hawaii County confirms that Yee has an arrest record for a misdemeanor crime that occurred in Kona.
He was in a KTA store in Keaauhou in 1992 when he apparently stuffed a bottle of Tropical Blend Tan Magnifier Oil into his pocket and then under his shirt and walked out of the store.
After being stopped by a security guard, he said he was trying to show the bottle of suntan lotion to his wife who was waiting outside. Local police arrested him.
When it came time for Yee’s court hearing, records show he skipped his court appearance and never paid the $25 fine.
Yee had another brush with law enforcement in 1999, the San Francisco Weekly reports: “Although cops stopped him twice in the Mission District’s hooker-row area near Capp Street in 1999, Yee denied soliciting prostitutes. He told the media: ‘They presume that people are driving around there looking for prostitutes, but there are people who use that street to go home. They said there was somebody they thought looked like me who may have been soliciting. And I said, ‘No, I was coming from work.'”
Yee, 65, has promoted himself as a pious and transparent politician, but the FBI has apparently had him in their sights for some time. Court records show the FBI conducted several undercover operations to prove Yee was accepting cash donations in exchange for political favors.
The FBI also documented in court records Yee’s ties to a gun running operation. Yee was one of the state’s leading gun control advocates and had been campaigning for stricter firearms laws, claiming he was a father who wanted his community to be safe.
Yee has additional ties to Hawaii. He graduated from the University of Hawaii-Manoa, awarded a PhD in Psychology in 1975.
Yee also had influence on local county officials in 2011 when he was in news for attacking conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
Yee said: “Rush Limbaugh reached a new low as he mocked the Chinese language and culture. His classless act is an insult to over 3,000 years of cultural history and is a slap in the face to the millions of Chinese Americans who have struggled in this country and to a people who constitute one-quarter of the world’s population. His comments belittle the contributions of the Chinese community and are sadly indicative of the bigotry that has often plagued his commentary and lined his pockets. Mr. Limbaugh owes the Chinese community an apology for this pointless and ugly offense.”
Honolulu Council Members Stanley Chang and Romy Cachola followed Yee’s lead and issued their own statements against Limbaugh. They also authored resolutions calling on advertisers to ban Limbaugh’s radio show, which airs in Hawaii on KHVH News radio 830 AM. Eight of nine council members voted for their resolution. Then Honolulu City Council Member Tom Berg was the only member to vote in opposition.
Limbaugh denied the accusation that he made a racist comment, and this week, Limbaugh recounted the controversy as well as Yee’s checkered political career.
Yee’s fall from grace since being arrested in an FBI political corruption, wire fraud and gun running sting this week has been dramatic. Even his fellow state senators are trying to suspend him. According to a report in the LA Times, Yee will be removed by a vote of fellow senators if he doesn’t step down on his own.
Yee, in political office for three decades, was the first Chinese American elected to the state Senate in California.
If Yee had been elected mayor, he would have overseen the police department.