Former State Sen. Leland Yee Pleads Guilty to Racketeering

State Sen. Leland Yee after a March 2014 federal court appearance.  ( (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images).)

Update, 12:25 p.m.: Former state Sen. Leland Yee, facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison on corruption charges, pleaded guilty today to a single felony count of racketeering.

Yee acknowledged his guilt in a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer, who accepted the plea and set sentencing for Oct. 21. He declined to comment as he left court.

The veteran San Francisco Democrat, who was running for California secretary of state when he was arrested on a long list of corruption charges in early 2014, faces a maximum term of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Read his plea agreement below.

He had previously pleaded not guilty to felony corruption, racketeering and arms trafficking charges contained in a 13-count federal indictment.

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The counts alleged that he had agreed to trade favors, such as supporting legislation or lobbying for state contracts, in exchange for campaign contributions; that he had agreed to secure a Senate proclamation for accused Chinatown gangster Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow -- again, in exchange for a donation; and that he had offered to help an undercover FBI agent secure firearms.

The count to which Yee pleaded guilty -- conspiracy to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity -- accused the state senator of using his mayoral and secretary of state campaign committees for "criminal fundraising and campaign activities." Those activities included wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, extortion, trafficking in firearms and money laundering.

According to the indictment and affidavits filed in the case, Yee and a political consultant he worked with, Keith Jackson, became ensnared in a federal investigation targeting Chow in 2011. The indictment recounts a long series of encounters between Yee and Jackson -- who believed they were dealing with business people seeking favors. In fact, their would-be business partners were undercover FBI agents.

Jackson also entered a guilty plea to the racketeering charges and, like Yee, faces a 20-year maximum prison sentence.

Jackson's son, Brandon Jackson, and a sports agent, Marlon Sullivan, entered guilty pleas to a separate conspiracy count and face shorter potential sentences -- 48 to 96 months for Brandon Jackson, 60 to 96 months for Sullivan. The two Jacksons and Sullivan will also be sentenced Oct. 21.

Yee and the other three defendants had been scheduled to go on trial in just a few weeks. As noted by Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News, Wednesday's plea deals mean few of the details of Yee's operation will become public -- at least for now:

Yee's plea deal avoids a detailed exploration at trial of his political dealing, and likely reduced his potential punishment, while the government will not be forced to detail the scope of an undercover FBI probe that crossed paths with numerous high-profile figures who were not implicated in any wrongdoing, including former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

Here's Yee as he arrived at the San Francisco Federal Building this morning:

Read Yee's plea agreement below. Click the links to read plea agreements for Keith Jackson, Brandon Jackson, and Marlon Sullivan.

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Alex Emslie of KQED News contributed to this post.

Our original post, from the Associated Press:

Former state Sen. Leland Yee, the San Francisco Democrat charged last year in a sweeping organized crime and public corruption case, may have reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Yee, who previously has pleaded not guilty to bribery, money laundering and other felony charges, was scheduled to go on trial in late July along with three co-defendants. But a judge has scheduled change-of-plea hearings for the four on Wednesday.

Abraham Simmons, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, said he could not provide details of a possible deal or say what the hearing would mean for Yee.

"I can't confirm who is going to say what and who is going to do what," Simmons said.

Yee's attorney, James Lassart, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The FBI arrested Yee and 19 others in 2014 during a series of raids throughout the Bay Area. He is accused of soliciting and accepting bribes from an alleged Chinatown gang leader in exchange for providing help from Sacramento. The FBI also alleged that Yee, who was running for secretary of state at the time, conspired to connect an undercover agent with an international arms dealer in exchange for campaign contributions.

The three other defendants with hearings scheduled Wednesday are Keith Jackson, a former San Francisco school board member who acted as Yee's consultant and fundraiser; Jackson's son Brandon; and Marlon Sullivan, a sports agent. Their attorneys also did not immediately return calls.

The arrests were the culmination of the FBI's eight-year investigation of Raymond Chow, the elected head of a Chinese-American association called Ghee Kung Tong. The FBI alleges the association was a racketeering enterprise and that undercover agents laundered $2.6 million in cash from illegal bookmaking through the organization.

Chow has pleaded not guilty to money laundering and other charges.