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Former Democratic California Assembly boss Willie Brown thinks allegations against indicted Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee, including doing official favors for campaign cash and agreeing to sell to FBI agents shoulder-fired missiles obtained from terrorists, are no big deal.
“Give the guy a break,” writes Brown in a column for the San Francisco Chronicle. “When all is said and done, his alleged crimes come down to taking campaign contributions in return for issuing proclamations, using campaign funds to set up a meeting and taking campaign funds for writing a letter.”
Brown says Yee did not sell any votes, steal any public money or actually put money in his own pocket.
“I’m starting to feel sorry for Leland Yee. He is holed up in his house and everyone thinks of him as the reincarnation of Al Capone,” writes Brown.
Brown says none of Yee’s decisions affected the public.
“I’ve gone over the FBI’s criminal complaint and, from what I can see, the biggest crime he was accused of was trying hustle some undercover FBI agents who were out to get alleged Chinatown gang leader Raymond ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow,” Brown writes.
About the weapons charges, Brown says: “And there was apparently never a gun-running operation involving him. It was allegedly just Yee thinking he could hustle some money that he was ripping off someone who was not very smart. Instead it was an FBI agent. When all is said and done, Yee appears to be a petty thief – the guy that walks past the fruit stand and, when you’re not looking, takes an apple and keeps walking.”
Brown concedes Yee shouldn’t be in government, but claims he’s not dangerous.
“Sending him to jail is a waste of time. He is already screwed for life,” writes Brown.
Beginning in early 2011, Yee repeatedly solicited bribes to fund his San Francisco mayor and California secretary of state campaigns, according to the FBI agents who brought him down last month.
The San Jose Mercury News reported the same day Brown’s column ran that Yee “devoted more time and energy to a far more lucrative pursuit: crafting or carrying legislation benefiting special interests who supply campaign contributions. It’s a practice that’s all too common in Sacramento, but Yee was a master. A review of Yee’s legislation and campaign finance records during the time of the FBI investigation shows that, when he wasn’t allegedly trading his influence and trying to broker an international arms deal with undercover agents for $62,600 in illegal cash payments, the San Francisco Democratic lawmaker raised more than $150,000 in perfectly legal fashion, scooping up donations from labor unions, trade associations and other groups.”
Yee ended up sitting across from an undercover federal agent in a coffee shop in early March, brokering what he was told was a $2 million arms deal that would include the purchase of shoulder-fired missiles from Islamic rebels in the Philippines.
“Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money,” Yee told the agent in a conversation recounted in a 137-page arrest affidavit. “Do I think we can get the goods? I think we can get the goods.”
An advocate for gun control and campaign finance reform in Sacramento, Yee is now one of about two dozen people, all Democrats, charged in a sprawling racketeering case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco. His co-defendants include a former San Francisco school board president and a previously convicted Chinatown mobster dubbed “Shrimp Boy.”
He’s accused of putting his public office up for sale and promising to push donors’ agendas in Sacramento and in his district in exchange for contributions. Yee has been free on $500,000 bond since his arrest.