The FBI affidavit attached to the corruption case of state Sen. Leland Yee details a world of armaments: bulletproof vests, revolvers, assault rifles, shoulder-fired rockets and mines.
The document, released Wednesday as Yee was arraigned in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on arms trafficking and corruption charges, connects him to a sting in which undercover FBI agents purchased, asked for or were offered a huge arsenal of weapons by alleged gangsters.
If the charges are true, those who know the Democratic senator from San Francisco say it represents a shocking instance of political hypocrisy and double-dealing: Yee, who has been a staunch advocate for tighter California gun laws, stands accused of helping to orchestrate international weapon deals to help fund his campaign for secretary of state.
The affidavit does not depict Yee directly interacting with members of the criminal underworld. It does describe him promising to link an undercover FBI agent to illegal guns, sourced from abroad, in exchange for money.
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What remains unclear, however, is whether Yee was capable of delivering on the promises the document says he made. He deflected requests to set up a face-to-face meeting between the undercover agent and an anonymous Filipino arms dealer, the affidavit says. Later, it says, Yee instead suggested working with a local dealer named Wilson Lim and arranged a meeting with Lim, a political aide named Keith Jackson and the FBI agent.
Even then, while the affidavit says they discussed the logistics of an arms deal – should the agent pick up the weapons in the Philippines? What route would they take from there? Would the agent’s supposed connections at the Port of Newark dampen scrutiny? – it’s not evident that an explicit agreement was reached. In the final meeting with the agent described in the affidavit, Yee promises to pass a list of requested weapons to Lim in exchange for $6,800 in cash.
Yet the document portrays Yee as confident about his ability to set up a deal. It says the senator talked about his history with the unidentified Filipino dealer and assured the FBI agent that his offer of a gun transaction is the “real deal.” He described a Filipino Muslim insurgency as a possible source of guns, mentioned his encounter with guards with machine guns during a visit to the Philippines and talked about navigating a society where multiple payoffs would be necessary, according to the affidavit.
“It’s not just Russia; the Muslim countries have sources, too. And so, that has been brought to my attention recently,” Yee is quoted as saying. According to the document, he characterized as a “war zone” the volatile Filipino island of Mindanao, where he said Muslim secessionists had received financing from the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
During a conversation about facilitating an arms purchase, the affidavit says Yee was “agnostic” about the transaction.
“People want to get whatever they want to get,” Yee reportedly said. “Do I care? No, I don’t care. People need certain things.”
Yee met the undercover agent through his political aide, Jackson, a former San Francisco school board member who worked as a fundraiser for the senator, the affidavit says. It recounts the agent later paying Yee $6,800 to issue a proclamation honoring a San Francisco fraternal association headed by Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. The ex-con who was one of 26 people arrested in the FBI sweep that snared Lee on Wednesday and suspected of selling drugs, smuggling guns and arranging murder for hire.
The affidavit says Jackson met with the agent and said Yee knew an “international arms dealer who was shipping large stockpiles of weapons into a foreign country.” Jackson served as an intermediary for the proposed gun deals with Yee and was acting on explicit permission from Yee, the document says.
At one point, the agent expressed an interest in meeting Yee’s arms dealer, the affidavit says, and offered to contribute money to Yee’s secretary of state campaign to secure an introduction.
But before pouring thousands into senator’s campaign, the affidavit says, the agent questioned Yee’s seriousness: “He believed (Yee) was all about taking money from people and not delivering on his promises,” the affidavit says. But it quotes Jackson as assuring the agent that he would “make it happen,” acting as a trusted middleman.
A few months later, according to the affidavit, when the agent furnished Jackson with a $5,000 check for Yee’s campaign, Jackson said he and Yee would be meeting the dealer soon and emphasized the connection between the check and arranging a meeting between the agent and the gun trafficker.
“According to Keith Jackson, Senator Yee fully understood the check being provided to Senator Yee’s campaign was solely for the purpose of getting an introduction to the arms dealer,” the affidavit says. The agent subsequently promised at least $100,000 more upon completion of a deal, it says.
Yee and the agent then met in person, the affidavit says. Yee is described as telling the agent that “we’re interested” in setting up an arms deal, explaining that he had known the dealer for years but needed to let things progress gradually. “He’s going to rely on me,” Yee is quoted as saying of the unidentified broker, “because ultimately it’s going to be me.”
“I know what he could do,” Yee purportedly reassured the agent. “I have seen what he has done in the past on other products and this guy has the relationships.”
The document says that when the agent pressed Yee about obtaining shoulder-fired missiles or rockets, the senator said he had spoken to his local arms dealer about the possibility.
“I told (Lim) about rocket launchers and things like that,” Yee reportedly replied.
The evidence necessary to secure a weapons-trafficking conviction depends on the arms involved, according to Albert Y. Dayan, an attorney who represents convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout. When air-to-surface missiles are being sold, all prosecutors need to prove is the existence of an agreement, he said.
More proof is required with small arms like rifles and pistols, Dayan said. There, the government must establish an “overt act” advancing the transaction. Intent alone is not sufficient.
“Accepting money is an overt act. Going out and purchasing a truck to deliver (weapons) is an overt act. Going on a plane to go to the meeting is not an overt act,” Dayan said.
The description of Yee’s reluctance to move aggressively on an arms deal does not necessarily expose the FBI to an accusation of entrapment, Dayan said – and if Yee were to pursue an entrapment defense, it would require him to acknowledge that he had agreed to broker a purchase.
“Even if the senator says ‘I’m not interested,’ the agent can and is allowed by law to keep asking and that would still not to rise to the level of entrapment,” Dayan said.