A federal judge said he wanted to make an example of former state Sen. Leland Yee on Wednesday when he sentenced the disgraced politician to five years in prison for accepting bribes and conspiring to smuggle firearms into the country.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer told Yee, 67, during the sentencing that Yee shook the public’s trust in government when he solicited bribes to fund his campaign to become California Secretary of State.
“It is the vote that is a key part of the legislative process,” Breyer said. “Votes are not for sale. Positions are not for sale. And your conduct indicating that it was for sale was a violation of [the public’s] trust.”
Until his arrest in March 2014, Yee was a fixture in San Francisco politics beginning with a stint on San Francisco’s school board in the late 1980s. Yee also served as a city supervisor and state assemblyman, becoming known for his gun-control and violence-prevention efforts.
Yee pleaded guilty in July to one count of participating in a racketeering conspiracy to accept bribes in exchange for political favors. The maximum sentence for the conviction was 20 years in prison, though prosecutors had sought eight years for Yee.
In 2014, Yee was captured on wiretap by an undercover FBI agent arranging a deal to ship at least 100 rifles into the country from the Philippines through a Russian arms dealer, in exchange for a fee of up to several million dollars.
At the time, Yee represented the western half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County as a Democrat in the state Senate.
“I have taken full responsibility for my actions and the crimes that I have committed,” an expressionless Yee told Breyer at the hearing, asking for leniency in his sentencing. “Nothing will ever take away these crimes and actions.”
Breyer told Yee he must be held both legally and morally responsible for the conspiracy charges.
“I don’t feel that I should be lenient,” Breyer said. “The crimes you have committed have resulted in essentially an attack on government institutions.”
Meanwhile, Keith Jackson, a political consultant and former San Francisco school board president who also pleaded guilty last summer to the same racketeering conspiracy charge as Yee, was sentenced Wednesday to nine years in prison.
Prosecutors had asked that Jackson, who helped broker the weapons deal with Yee that never came to fruition, spend a decade behind bars.
Breyer said Jackson was “akin to being a one-person crime wave.”
“You are an intelligent person and you rose out of a difficult situation to become a leader of the community,” Breyer told Jackson, who grew up in the Western Addition. “Your conduct subsequent to that is perplexing — disappointing would be too kind a word, too mild a word — it is basically unfathomable.”
After the hearing, Jackson hugged loved ones in the lobby of the federal building before walking outside alone.
“It is what it is,” Jackson said. “I take responsibility for my actions.”
Breyer ordered both Jackson and Yee to turn themselves in to authorities within 30 days.
“I’m not going to blame anybody,” Jackson said, though his attorney told reporters earlier Wednesday that Jackson was entrapped by the FBI. “The government did what they did… There’s some responsibility on both sides.”
Yee and Jackson were among 29 people charged in a wide-ranging 2014 indictment that included corruption charges against them, as well as organized crime charges against Chinatown Ghee Kung Tong leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow and his associates.
Thus far, Chow is the only defendant to go to trial. He was convicted by a jury in Breyer’s court in January of 162 counts, including organized crime racketeering, conspiracy and the 2006 murder of his predecessor as leader of the Ghee Kung Tong civic association.
Chow will be sentenced by Breyer on March 23.
At least a dozen other defendants have pleaded guilty to various charges stemming from the 2014 indictment.
Just spoke with Keith Jackson as he exited the federal courthouse. He was sentenced to 9 years in prison pic.twitter.com/xj35NsXm5a
— Michael Barba (@mdbarba) February 24, 2016
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.
Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink