Former state Sen. Leland Yee pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco Wednesday to one count of participating in a racketeering conspiracy to accept campaign contributions as bribes for political favors.
Yee, 67, a Democrat who formerly represented western San Francisco and most of San Mateo County, entered the plea to one count of racketeering conspiracy before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer.
He will be sentenced by Breyer on Oct. 21.
The conviction carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The judge said he will consider advisory sentencing guidelines when calculating the sentence.
Yee, who was arrested on corruption charges in March 2014, gave few details of the scheme during the hearing in Breyer’s Federal Building courtroom, except to state that he gave the plea voluntarily and “knowingly agreed to participate” in the conspiracy.
But in a written plea agreement filed in court Wednesday, Yee admitted to seven specific acts in furtherance of the conspiracy between 2012 and 2014, including four in which he accepted a total of $34,600 in campaign contributions in exchange for using his political authority or influence.
In the other three acts, Yee admitted to having discussed plans to receive unspecified payments in exchange for future actions.
The contributions were for either his campaign debt from an unsuccessful run for mayor, or for his planned run for secretary of state, which he dropped out of after being arrested last year.
Yee’s former fundraiser and political consultant, former San Francisco school board president Keith Jackson, 50, pleaded guilty to the same count and will also be sentenced on Oct. 21.
The four bribes to which Yee admitted were paid by (TO?) several undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen of various kinds.
The acknowledged bribes included $10,000 to vouch for a supposed businessman seeking a state Public Health Department grant; $6,800 for a certificate honoring the Chee Kung Tong association in Chinatown; and $11,000 for meeting to discuss potential statewide marijuana legislation.
Yee also admitted to accepting $6,800 on March 14, 2014, for arranging a meeting among himself, Jackson, an undercover FBI agent and the late Wilson Lim, a Daly City dentist, to plan a never-completed deal to buy guns that would be smuggled from the Philippines.
Jackson admitted to some of the same acts, including planning the proposed arms deal, in his plea agreement. He also admitted telling an undercover agent in 2013 that Yee would accept $60,000 in exchange for a favorable vote on legislation to limit the ability of professional athletes employed by non-California teams to file workers’ compensation claims in California.
Yee’s plea agreement includes no sentencing recommendation. In Jackson’s plea bargain, his attorneys agreed to recommend a minimum of six years in prison and prosecutors agreed to suggest a maximum of 10 years. The judge is not bound by the recommendations.
Jackson’s son, Brandon Jackson, 29, and sports agent Marlon Sullivan, 30, pleaded guilty to participating in a separate racketeering conspiracy to conduct an organized crime enterprise.
They will also be sentenced on Oct. 21. Yee and Keith Jackson will remain free on bail while awaiting sentencing and the other two men are in custody without bail.
The four men had been scheduled to go on trial on Aug. 10, as the first of a group of 28 people charged with corruption or organized crime offenses.
The charges were initially filed in a criminal complaint in March 2014 and then expanded in three successive grand jury indictments, most recently in a 230-count indictment issued on Jan 29.
Sixteen of the remaining defendants, including Chee Kung Tong leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow are accused of the organized-crime racketeering conspiracy. They and the other eight defendants are also charged with specific organized crime offenses, including money laundering and trafficking in stolen cigarettes.
Breyer instructed prosecutor Ralph Frentzen to submit a proposal for the grouping of defendants in future trials and said he wants Chow to be in the next group. The judge said he is concerned about defendants, including Chow, who have been in custody while awaiting trial.
Chow’s attorneys have submitted several briefs to the judge arguing that it is unfair for him to have been kept in custody since his arrest in March 2014 without having even a trial date.
The prosecution proposal for future trials will be considered at a hearing before Breyer next Tuesday.
Yee was charged with 12 other crimes, including fraud and conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license, but those charges will now be dropped.
Keith Jackson had faced 22 other charges, including the same charges as Yee and additional counts of participating in the organized-crime racketeering conspiracy, selling guns without a license and participating in a never-completed murder-for-hire plot. Those charges will also be dismissed.
Although Keith Jackson did not plead guilty to those charges, Brandon Jackson and Sullivan admitted in their plea agreements that they joined Keith Jackson in unlicensed sales of guns to an undercover agent and in discussions of a planned cocaine purchase and the murder-for-hire plot.
Asked after the hearing whether Keith Jackson feels remorse, his attorney, James Brosnahan, said:
“I don’t think I can tell you how badly he feels. … People get into horrible messes. He appreciates what he did and that it has to be dealt with.”
The defense attorney also said:
“The FBI started by hiring Mr. Jackson and paying him money to do perfectly lawful things. They also promised him great wealth. After they had done that, they began to embroil him in the matter that brings him to his plea today.”
Yee’s attorney, James Lassart, could not be reached for comment.
Before being elected to the state Senate, Yee served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and as a member and president of the city school board.