State Sen. Leland Yee is withdrawing his candidacy for California Secretary of State, his attorney announced today.
Yee informed Secretary of State Debra Bowen shortly before noon today of his decision to withdraw from the race after he was arrested and charged in a federal case involving allegations of corruption and gun trafficking Wednesday, Yee’s defense attorney Paul DeMeester said outside the San Francisco Federal Building today.
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Read the full criminal complaint here
“It’s a very personal choice, a personal thing that he wanted to do,” DeMeester said.
However, an official list of candidates running for California Secretary of State will be released this evening with state Yee still on it, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Yee, 65, was arrested Wednesday morning and appeared in federal court in San Francisco to be arraigned on one count of trafficking in firearms and illegally importing firearms and six counts of schemes to defraud citizens.
His arrest was part of a series FBI raids executed at locations throughout the Bay Area, including at the Ghee Kung Tong Supreme Lodge in San Francisco’s Chinatown, which houses the Chinese Freemasons of the World at 36 Spofford St.
Yee is out on $500,000 bail, and is scheduled to return to court Monday.
Meanwhile, the remaining candidates running for Secretary of State have reacted to Yee’s arrest and alleged political corruption.
Fellow state senator and Democratic candidate Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, issued a statement calling the criminal allegations “another blow to the institution of the California State Senate.”
Padilla did not comment on how the arrest and charges against Yee would affect the upcoming June primary and November election.
Secretary of State Green Party candidate David Curtis said this morning that the focus of the race has turned to “Yee’s situation” and he said he wondered, “How do you get people’s attention back to the other candidates?”
Curtis said for frontrunner Padilla, Yee’s arrest is a double-edged sword with some voters concerned that a fellow state senator comes from the same money-grubbing “gene pool,” while others are moving away from Yee and aligning with Padilla instead.
Democrat Derek Cressman was also running against Yee for Secretary of State, and said in a statement that Yee’s address is a “wake-up call” and that, “We are clearly beyond the point of looking at one bad apple and instead looking at a corrupt institution in the California senate.”
According to the California Secretary of State office, at this point in the election process, Yee’s name cannot be removed from the ballot and he is considered an official candidate for the position.
State Sen. President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has called on Yee to resign from the senate.
He said senators would move to suspend Yee and that he is removing Yee from his committee positions.
Yee and his office have yet to issue a statement following his arrest.
Yee represents Senate District 8, which includes the western half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County. He declared his candidacy for secretary of state in 2012.
Yee unsuccessfully ran for San Francisco mayor in 2011, coming in fifth. He had served two terms as a San Francisco supervisor from 1997 to 2002.
A criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday included 26 people involved in schemes connected with the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong organization including allegations of murder-for-hire, drug running, trafficking of stolen cigarettes and liquor, and other racketeering activity.
Other defendants include former San Francisco school board member and Yee’s friend and former colleague Keith Jackson, 49, and Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, the alleged head of the San Francisco Chinatown gang who had been convicted on gun charges in federal court in 1995 and carries a lengthy criminal past.
The 137-page complaint alleges since 2012, Yee raised money and campaign funds for his secretary of state campaign by soliciting donations from undercover FBI agents in exchange for multiple official acts.
The complaint also details alleged gun trafficking that Yee, with the help of Jackson, was organizing through connections to an arms dealer out of the Philippines.
Allegedly Yee was working with an undercover agent to set up a gun deal involving $2 million worth of weapons.
In the complaint, Yee allegedly told the agent about at least 100 rifles and other automatic weapons and rocket launchers that he could try to ship to the U.S.
As an elected official, Yee has championed for assault weapons bans, pushed for more government transparency and even pushed through a state bill that put age limitations on video games that perpetuate violence.
Sasha Lekach/Julia Cheever, Bay City News