Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 10, 2014
More defendants could be charged in Leland Yee case, feds say


Federal authorities said today that they are likely within the next three months to announce additional charges and new defendants in the criminal case that involves Sen. Leland Yee and more than two dozen others accused of various crimes including running guns, selling drugs and arranging murder-for-hire.

"While investigation by the Grand Jury is necessarily secret... it makes good sense to generally notify the Court and opposing counsel that additional charges and, potentially, additional defendants are inevitable," prosecutors wrote in a court filing today.

Authorities continue to investigate possible racketeering and criminal violations and hope to return additional indictments in the next three months, prosecutors wrote.

Their wide-ranging case in San Francisco federal court began as an organized crime investigation with undercover FBI agents infiltrating a Chinatown group led by Raymond "ShrimpBoy" Chow, says the criminal complaint against Yee, Chow and others. Over the course of five years, the investigation grew to include a corruption sting involving Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, and Keith Jackson, a political consultant who was helping Yee raise money for his campaigns for San Francisco mayor in 2011 and Secretary of State in 2014.

In today's filling, prosecutors gave a glimpse of the evidence they will present in their case, saying they intend to introduce body recordings, video recordings, wiretaps and reports from FBI agents.

"The government intends to turn over virtually all such materials without redactions other than the case file number and personally identifying information," the filing says.

One thing prosecutors won't be making available, they wrote, are the identities of the many undercover agents involved in the sting:

"It is the position of the government that in the instant case, the (undercover agents and confidential informants) need not be known by their true names and should be referred to by the names utilized by them in the case.

April 10, 2014
VIDEO: FBI tried, failed to push Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow to crimes, say lawyers


SAN FRANCISCO - Previewing their defense of Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, attorneys for the accused on Thursday portrayed their client as an innocent man whom undercover law enforcement officers tried and failed to lure into illegal acts.

"With all their inducements, their wining and dining, their submission of illegal activities, their enticements, he failed to perform or aid or abet in any act that constitutes crime," said J. Tony Serra, Chow's lawyer, standing before two giant posters cataloguing "criminal activities" and "fictitious crimes" he said the government undertook. "My client's not a gangster. They didn't intervene on ongoing criminal activity."

Chow was one of more than two dozen people swept up in a years-long undercover federal operation, among them state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Yee faces charges of corruption and conspiracy to deal in and import firearms, while Chow has been indicted on counts of money laundering and conspiracy to transport stolen property.

This is not the first time Chow has faced criminal charges. He was convicted on federal racketeering charges in 2000 and was at the time "one of the leaders of criminal activities engaged in" by the San Francisco-based Hop Sing Tong, according to the FBI.

After his cooperation in a case against an alleged Chinatown crime leader allowed Chow to emerge from prison early, he publicly trumpeted his new life as a redeemed former criminal, speaking to youth groups and winning accolades for his work in the community.

Chow's supporters and lawyers emphasized that point at Thursday's press conference. Some wore bright red t-shirts bearing the phrase "Free Shrimp Boy," and before the conference began a screen displayed a looped clip of Chow delivering an anti-violence speech at San Francisco City College. Serra called his client "an exemplary human being."

"I know what kind of man he is and I know he wouldn't do the things they said he's done," Chow's 29-year-old niece, Elaine Woo, said before the press conference, wearing one of the red t-shirts. "He's helped the community a lot."

But the FBI says that, far from renouncing his past, Chow presided over illegal enterprises. He took over as "dragonhead" of the Chee Kung Tong organization after the unsolved murder of its previous head, Allen Leung, and oversaw "all criminal activities within" the fraternal Chinatown organization, according to the affidavit by Special Agent Emmanuel V. Pascua.

According to the document, Chow spoke repeatedly about his broad authority as dragonhead and accepted tribute money from an undercover agent working with Chow's associates to conduct money laundering transactions or to move stolen liquor and cigarettes.

The affidavit depicts Chow as someone who runs a criminal organization but is careful to avoid directly involving himself in crimes committed by underlings, at one point telling an associate that "I'm innocent. I don't have no knowledge of the crimes you commit to pay for my meal."

While the FBI portrays such statements as Chow's attempts to distance himself and avoid being implicated, writing that Chow "did not want to know anything because he would not be guilty if he did not know anything," his attorneys argued on Thursday that the government's case shows Chow repeatedly refusing to commit crimes.

"There's over 25 incidents in that affidavit where Raymond either wanted nothing to do with it or said 'please take it away from me, I don't want to know,'" said Curtis Briggs, one of Chow's lawyers. "That's an innocent man who was targeted by the government."

Chow's attorneys emphasized the sections of the affidavit in which Chow warns against illegal activity or repeatedly says "no" when offered money. While the document also describes Chow pocketing cash from the undercover agent after initially refusing, Serra said Chow merely "acquiesced" after being pushed - and broke no law in doing so.

"There's no law against accepting a gratuity," Serra said.


April 10, 2014
No campaign cash for fighting criminal charges, says Jerry Hill


Politicians facing criminal charges would not be allowed to use campaign funds to pay their legal bills under an amendment Sen. Jerry Hill said he plans to introduce in the wake of the indictment of his colleague Sen. Leland Yee on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Under current law, politicians have wide latitude on how they spend campaign funds. Expenses have to have a legislative, governmental or political purpose, but can be used for everything from hiring campaign consultants and TV ads, to travel and paying legal bills.

Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, proposes several changes to the rules regarding how politicians can use campaign funds in his Senate Bill 831. Among them: prohibiting officials from giving campaign funds to nonprofits operated by their political colleagues and banning the use of campaign funds for things like rent, utility bills, vacations, tuition and gifts to family members.

(Alert readers may remember that Sen. Ron Calderon, now indicted on corruption and money laundering charges, and his brother, former Assemblyman Charles Calderon have a history of using campaign accounts to pay for their Christmas gifts to each other.)

SB 831 would also place a new $5,000 cap on the amount of travel gifts officials could receive from nonprofit organizations, and require groups providing the travel to disclose their financial donors to the Fair Political Practices Commission. It's one of many ethics proposals to surface this year as the Capitol responds to a string of scandals.

Yee and Calderon have both pleaded not guilty in separate cases.

PHOTO: Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 10, 2014
AM Alert: Leland Yee scandal blunts increasing approval of Legislature

yee_press_resized.jpgAs the old saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

It was good news for the California Legislature in December, when the Field Poll showed public support for lawmakers at its highest since 2007, and the outlook was only getting brighter. Early results from polling in March indicated voter approval of the Legislature at 46 percent, surpassing disapproval for the first time in more than a decade.

Then scandal hit: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was arrested by the FBI in a sweeping corruption sting.

As Field finished its polling over the next week, voters' approval of the Legislature tumbled to 43 percent and disapproval jumped from 40 percent to 46 percent, representing a 9 percentage point swing in the negative direction. It's not the record lows that lawmakers saw during the depths of California's budget crisis, but public confidence has clearly been shaken by the string of recent criminal charges — and one conviction, so far — against their representatives.

Reporter Jeremy B. White has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll will focus on the California Secretary of State election, which was upended by Yee's arrest and subsequent withdrawal from the race. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app will have access to the story early, at 8 p.m.

PARTY TIME: Like schoolchildren and beach-bound coeds across the nation, our legislators also enjoy an annual spring break. The Senate and Assembly both meet at 9 a.m. for final floor sessions before a week-long recess.

ALL DRIED UP: The severe drought has spurred numerous efforts to address California's water resource management, but how will we pay for them? Local water officials, lawyers and engineers gather for a half-day conference on how to improve the state's water-finance system. The event, hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, begins at 9 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center.

WIRED IN: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson discuss the need for Internet access and other educational technology in schools, 10 a.m. at the Sacramento Public Library on I Street. They will be joined by Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and AT&T Vice President Kathy McKim.

NEW JOB: Congratulations to Karen French, former associate director of legislative affairs for the University of California, who has joined Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who turns 74 today.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon


Capitol Alert Staff

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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