Suspended State Senator Leland Yee, Others Plead Not Guilty

Suspended state Sen. Leland Yee pleaded not guilty in federal court in San Francisco today to seven public corruption charges and one arms-trafficking charge lodged against him in a grand jury indictment last week.

Yee, 65, entered the plea through his new defense lawyer, former federal prosecutor James Lassart, before U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero at a lengthy arraignment proceeding this morning for most of the 29 men and women named in the April 3 indictment.

Most of the defendants are due to reappear in federal court in San Francisco on Friday before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, the trial judge assigned to the case, for a hearing on evidence-gathering and other pretrial matters. The trial has not yet been scheduled.

Yee, who is free on $500,000 bond, is accused of six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of his honest services by allegedly soliciting and taking campaign contributions in exchange for political favors for donors. The purported donors were undercover FBI agents.

The indictment, which replaced a previous criminal complaint, added a new charge of conspiring in the alleged fraud.

Yee is also accused of conspiring to engage in gun trafficking without a license in connection with an alleged plan to have an undercover agent posing as a Mafia member buy $2 million in weapons from an arms dealer in the Philippines.

Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, was suspended from his legislative post by the state Senate after the criminal complaint was announced late last month.

Former San Francisco school board president Keith Jackson also pleaded not guilty to charges that included participating in the alleged campaign contribution fraud, selling guns and ballistic vests to an undercover FBI agent; conspiring to distribute drugs; conspiring in the alleged arms deal; and participating in an alleged murder-for-hire plot.

Jackson, a political consultant who presided over the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education in 1997, is free on a $250,000 bond. At a hearing Monday, Breyer rejected an appeal by federal prosecutors to have Jackson held in custody while awaiting trial.

Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow appeared in court for a reading of the charges, but his arraignment was postponed until next week after his new lawyer, veteran defense attorney Tony Serra, said he needed time to review the charges.

Chow, who was previously convicted of racketeering, is the leader of the Chee Kung Tong, a Chinatown-based civic group that is alleged by prosecutors to have a criminal faction. He is accused of money laundering, conspiring to receive stolen property, and conspiring to traffic in contraband cigarettes.

Outside of court, Serra, referring to the undercover FBI operation, alleged that “the government created the crimes, financed the crimes and ensnared my client.”

Chow is being held without bail but Serra said he may seek a bail review at a later date.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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