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Ex-California state senator facing up to 20 years after pleading guilty in Chinatown case

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SAN FRANCISCO — A former California state senator — once considered a leading candidate for a statewide office — is facing up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to a racketeering charge in an organized crime case centered in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Leland Yee — an advocate for government transparency and gun control while in office — acknowledged as part of a plea agreement Wednesday that he accepted bribes for his influence and power and discussed plans to acquire weapons.

He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering as part of his campaign committees for San Francisco mayor and California secretary of state.

"He's pleading guilty to a very significant charge," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "This is a career ender."

Yee's troubles were part of a series of legal cases involving Democratic state lawmakers in 2014 that damaged the Legislature's image and led to reforms. Sen. Ron Calderon was also indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges.

Calderon has pleaded not guilty. Sen. Rod Wright was convicted for lying about living in his district and sentenced to three months in jail.

The FBI arrested Yee and 19 others in March 2014 during a series of raids, one of which targeted a Chinese fraternal organization, the Ghee Kung Tong. Yee was in his second term as a state senator at the time after serving in the Assembly and as a San Francisco supervisor and school board member, and was running for the California secretary of state's office.

"Today's news turns the page on one of the darker chapters of the Senate's history," Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León said about Yee's plea.

Yee appeared relaxed as he entered federal court Wednesday in a dark suit and red tie, smiling and talking with people in the audience like a seasoned politician. He left the courthouse without talking to reporters. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October.

As part of his plea agreement, Yee acknowledged accepting $11,000 in exchange for setting up a meeting with another state senator, $10,000 for recommending someone for a grant and $6,800 for providing a certificate on state Senate letterhead honoring the Ghee Kung Tong.

He also acknowledged that he discussed helping an undercover FBI agent buy automatic weapons from the Philippines that were intended to be brought to the U.S. for distribution.

Yee previously pleaded not guilty to bribery, money laundering and other felony charges.

His arrest was the culmination of the FBI's multiyear investigation of Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, the elected "dragonhead" of the 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.

Federal agents say one of Chow's associates was Keith Jackson, a former San Francisco school board president and well-known political consultant who raised money for Yee's unsuccessful mayoral run in 2011 and his bid for secretary of state.

Jackson was also accused of soliciting bribes. He pleaded guilty to the same racketeering charge as Yee on Wednesday.


Associated Press Writer Judy Lin in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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