Politics & Government

Leland Yee’s lawyer questions fairness of FBI investigation

Suspended state Sen. Leland Yee appeared in federal court Monday in San Francisco but did not enter a plea in the case that charges him with conspiring to illegally traffic weapons and taking bribes from undercover FBI agents seeking official action in the Capitol.

Yee remains free on a $500,000 unsecured bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 8.

After Monday’s appearance, Yee’s lawyer Paul DeMeester asked why it took until Wednesday for the government to file charges when it appeared the investigation of his client began in 2011.

“It raises fairness questions,” DeMeester told The Associated Press. “Is it fair to the public, is it fair to the senator that it took so long?”

DeMeester questioned why the FBI appeared to shift the focus of its probe from a cash-for-influence case to an investigation of alleged connections to international arms dealers.

“There’s a question of whether the government felt it didn’t have enough evidence on the campaign investigation, so it starts pushing on the arms trafficking,” DeMeester said.

Prosecutors want property the senator owns to be used as collateral to guarantee he appears at all court hearings. Federal prosecutors said they are close to accepting some property the senator owns but were still in negotiations with Yee and his lawyers, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, one of Yee’s former Senate colleagues went on Los Angeles radio Monday morning to float an idea for a Senate ethics ombudsman who could take tips of wrongdoing from staff members, lawmakers and others.

Sen. Richard Roth, a Riverside Democrat who chairs the Senate Legislative Ethics Committee, was responding to a raft of legal troubles to hit the upper house. Last month, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was indicted on corruption charges. And in January, a Los Angeles County jury convicted state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, of lying about his residence when he ran for the Senate in 2008.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced Friday that the Senate will cancel one day of floor session and committee hearings and instead have an intensive, mandatory office-by-office review of Senate ethics policies.

Roth said his idea would build on that and reflects concerns that some people with knowledge of wrongdoing may be intimidated by the existing process of voicing concerns. Under Senate rules, people can make allegations of suspected violations of Senate standards of conduct. But the complaints must be in writing and be signed under penalty of perjury.

“It’s not as open a process, as free a process, as I would like to see,” Roth said. “We need to create a different system, where staff or other individuals, and legislators, are free to contact someone like an ombudsman.”

Roth, elected in 2012, said his office is starting to survey ethics procedures in other states. His goal, he said, is to make sure “we have the best ethics program in the nation, period.”