New court filings in the sentencing of former state Sen. Leland Yee and his political consultant Keith Jackson point to a Colma tombstone carver as the man the two talked about as a potential supplier of weapons for an undercover FBI agent posing as an East Coast Mafioso.
Yee and Jackson pleaded guilty last year to racketeering, including conspiring to traffic weapons. They are scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday.
Prosecutors' sentencing documents related to Yee and Jackson -- who were caught up in the sprawling federal investigation of San Francisco Chinatown crime boss Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow -- detail meetings involving Yee, Jackson and the undercover agent in which they discuss a potential arms supplier referred to as "the Russian." In one conversation mentioned in the documents, Yee also refers to the alleged arms merchant as "Leon."
The actual identity of "the Russian" has emerged in defense filings as Leon Rader, the Colma stonecutter, who came to the Bay Area from the former Soviet Union in the early 1980s.
Asked Tuesday about prosecutors' description of him as an "international arms dealer," Rader laughed.
“Maybe my new occupation?” he said in a telephone interview. “No, I’m an artist and a sculptor.”
“Leon hates guns,” said his son, Michael Rader. “It’s absolutely absurd.”
The Tombstone Connection
The Chow investigation took an unexpected turn after it split into a related probe of Jackson and Yee’s political corruption, according to federal prosecutors. Jackson told an undercover FBI agent who went by the alias David Jordan in August 2013 that Yee was associated with a Russian arms dealer and could broker a deal in exchange for donations to Yee’s campaign for secretary of state.
Prosecutors say in multiple filings that Jordan had also been negotiating a large cocaine deal with Jackson, his son Brandon Jackson and their associate Marlon Sullivan -- all scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday. The agent tied the cocaine deal to Jackson’s success in brokering a meeting with “the Russian” through Yee.
Yee’s attorney, James Lassart, contends that Rader, the owner of Colma tombstone company Art in Stone Monuments, is simply a longtime acquaintance of Yee’s. Rader's company made a legal campaign donation to Yee’s secretary of state campaign on March 4, 2014, about three weeks before Yee's arrest.
In a court filing, Lassart wrote: "To this day, there is no disclosed discovery of any information attaching Mr. Rader to international arms trafficking or any business other than stone carving."
Lassart did not respond to calls for comment Tuesday.
San Mateo County Sheriff's Deputy Henry Sutter says he's known Rader for more than three decades, since Rader came to the Bay Area. He says the stonecutter has a reputation as "a great artist with a creative mind."
But Sutter also describes Rader as "a bully."
"He tries to emulate that he has mob ties and can use those ties to get whatever he wants," said Sutter, a co-owner of Kollmann & Sutter Monument Co. in Colma who has tangled in court with Rader.
Rader sued Sutter in 2003, alleging his competitor had infringed on his copyright by stealing monument designs. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2004.
In their sentencing memorandum for Yee earlier this month, prosecutors traced the arms smuggling discussions between the FBI's undercover agent, Yee and Keith Jackson.
In August 2013, the memorandum recounts, Jackson told the agent that "Yee was associated with a Russian who was an international arms dealer. Jackson said the Russian arms dealer was currently shipping large stockpiles of weapons to the Philippines."
In December 2013, the memorandum says, Jackson told the undercover agent "the Russian had access to 'containers' full of weapons."
A few days later, the agent is said to have given $5,000 to Jackson to set up a meeting with the Russian. On Dec. 19, Yee and Jackson met "an individual whom the FBI identified, was Russian, and whom the FBI had reason to believe was connected to arms trafficking."
In conversations in January 2014, Yee had lots more to say about his Russian contact, prosecutors say.
"Yee said the Russian 'has things you guys want,' " the sentencing memorandum says. "Yee cautioned however, that doing business with the Russians is not easy, and not for the 'faint of heart.'"
At one point, prosecutors say, Yee referred to his Russian contact as "Leon."
Leon Rader and his son said in a joint interview Tuesday that Yee and Jackson stopped by for lunch in December 2013 and asked them for a donation. They said they had never met Jackson before or since and that Yee and Leon were not close. They said two FBI agents visited them a few weeks after Yee's arrest in 2014, but they've had no further contact.
"They came to my shop," said Leon Rader. "They asked me about Leland Yee. I told them I cannot say about this man, nothing else but good things. The only interaction I had with him was when I built the war memorial in San Francisco, and he was behind the World War memorial, and I was dealing with him."
Leon Rader created the USS San Francisco memorial in 2003. Michael Rader said Yee had stopped by on a couple occasions after their memorial dealings, when he was running for office. He said it was "poor timing" on their part that they had donated to Yee only once, three weeks before he was arrested.
End of the Arms Deal
In February 2014, the undercover agent met with Yee and Jackson and told them that he wanted to meet Yee's Russian contact. Yee reassured him that the source was the “real deal,” but he wouldn’t talk about weapons openly at the first meeting. The agent said he wanted “a container of AKs,” but Yee encouraged him to start with smaller deals and said the Russian would not do business with him unless Yee was involved.
Yee said he was “agnostic” about the weapons, according to recordings quoted in prosecutors' filings. “People want to get whatever they want to get,” said Yee. “Do I care? No, I don’t care. People need certain things.”
Prosecutors said in their separate sentencing memorandum for Keith Jackson that the Russian -- now identified by Yee's attorney as Rader -- “was apparently too savvy to actually sit down face-to-face" with the undercover agent. The document says the agent had been trying to get Yee and Jackson to set up a face-to-face meeting with the Russian "to ... determine if he really intended to deal in weapons."
The prosecution's sentencing memorandums for Yee and Jackson insist arms trafficking through Yee's Russian contact was a real possibility. Prosecutors say the FBI amassed evidence documenting Yee and Jackson's meeting with the Russian, including phone records and surveillance photographs.
"If the arms deal were not a real potential source for weapons, there would have been no need for the defendants to hold meetings with [the Russian]," prosecutors argue.
Michael Rader dimisses the notion his father is an arms merchant.
"Let me ask you something," Michael Rader said. "How many international arms dealers do you know who spend seven days a week hauling stone?"