California State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, has been hit with a slew of charges following an FBI investigation that found Yee worked to import illegal firearms into the country in exchange for cash. Yee is officially charged with conspiracy to traffic firearms without a license, conspiracy to import illegal firearms, and six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of honest services.
Undercover FBI agents posing as potential arms dealers held numerous secret meetings with Yee in which the senator said he could use his connections to an overseas arms dealer to bring guns into the country. The guns were to be given to the undercover agents in exchange for cash that Yee would use to fund his secretary of state campaign bid.
During one meeting, Yee allegedly told the agents, "Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money.”
Yee accepted at least $5,000 cash from the agents and was in the process of setting up deals that would have netted him hundreds of thousands more. He and the agents agreed on at least one future deal worth roughly $100,000. Yee spoke of specific locations in the Phillipines and Florida that would be ideal for trafficking the guns, which included M-16s and other semi-automatic rifles.
Yee reportedly appeared flustered in court on Wednesday. The FBI’s findings are particularly troubling given Yee’s unwavering support of gun control legislation in the past. He authored SB 108, a failed bill that introduced regulations for how guns had to be stored when not in their owner’s possession. He also publicly supported SB 147, a bill that would have prohibited devices allowing for changeable magazines on semi-automatic rifles – the same rifles Yee was trying to illegally import.
"I'm just astonished," said Corey Cook, director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. "Political corruption is one thing, but this is a whole other level."
Each of Yee’s six corruption counts is punishable with up to twenty years in jail and a $250,000 fine. The gun trafficking count is punishable with up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A federal judge released Yee on $500,000 bond following his court date on Wednesday.