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Corruption Charges Against Yee Stem From Undercover Operations

| March 27, 2014
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State Senator Leland Yee (Adithya Sambamurthy/ The Center for Investigative Reporting)

State Senator Leland Yee (Adithya Sambamurthy/ The Center for Investigative Reporting)

By Mina Kim and Grace Rubenstein

The fallout continues after Wednesday’s arrest of State Senator Leland Yee on corruption charges.

Yee’s lawyer, Paul De Meester, announced Thursday that the San Francisco legislator is quitting his campaign for secretary of state. And U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer also called for Yee to step down from his state Senate post.

An FBI affidavit more than 100 pages long outlines the allegations against Yee and 25 others in great detail, including Yee’s request for campaign contributions in exchange for facilitating a meeting with a gun trafficker and his accepting tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for introductions or calls to high-profile lawmakers. Yee has been charged with six counts of depriving the public of honest services and one count of conspiracy to traffic in guns without a license. (Check out the annotated guide to the affidavit by KQED’s Scott Detrow.)

Much of the FBI’s evidence comes from sting operations with undercover agents — an approximate version of an approach that will be fresh in the minds of those who saw the film “American Hustle.” Dramatic as it is on screen, will that kind of evidence-gathering hold up well in court?

Stanford Law professor Robert Weisberg, who co-directs the university’s Criminal Justice Center, said it most likely will.

“Not all of it has to hold up when there’s this much,” he said. There are still lots of dots to be connected and witnesses to be vetted, he added, “but when you have this much in a federal affidavit — and this affidavit is remarkably long and detailed — then the U.S. attorney has a right to be pretty confident that she can get a lot of convictions on a lot of counts.”

What about entrapment? Weisberg said entrapment claims aren’t likely to scuttle the case, as undercover agents (and here the “American Hustle” comparison ends) typically get involved only after the FBI finds indications that an official is “open for business.”

The most serious charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. According to his lawyer, Yee plans to plead not guilty.

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Category: Law and Justice, Politics and Government

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