8-year sentence sought for former state Sen. Leland Yee

Prosecutors urged a federal judge in San Francisco Wednesday to send former state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco and San Mateo, to prison for eight years for his political corruption conviction.

Yee, 67, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in July to one count of participating in a racketeering conspiracy to accept bribes in exchange for political favors.

Breyer is scheduled to sentence Yee on Feb. 24. The maximum sentence for the conviction is 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors made their case for eight years in prison in a sentencing brief submitted to Breyer Wednesday.

They said Yee was “an elected official who knew perfectly well what it means to pay to play” and “crossed that line” by accepting bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen in exchange for official acts between 2011 and 2014:

“Yee demonstrated he was a public servant who was willing to betray the trust of those who elected him by being prepared to sell his vote to the highest bidder.”

Yee needed money, prosecutors said, to retire a $70,000 campaign debt from his unsuccessful mayoral run in 2011 and to pay for his race for secretary of state in 2014. Yee dropped out of that campaign and was suspended by the California State Senate soon after being arrested on March 26, 2014.

Yee was one of 29 people charged in a wide-ranging 2014 indictment that included both corruption charges against the senator and his fundraiser, Keith Jackson, and organized-crime charges against Chinatown Chee Kung Tong leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow and associates.

Chow is the only defendant to go to trial thus far. 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 Chee 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, including Jackson.

Jackson, a political consultant and former San Francisco school board president, pleaded guilty to the same racketeering conspiracy charge as Yee and will also be sentenced next week.

In a written plea agreement, Yee admitted to engaging in seven specific racketeering acts as part of the conspiracy and to gaining payments of $34,600 for four of those acts.

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; $11,000 for a meeting to discuss potential statewide marijuana legislation; and $6,800 for arranging a meeting to plan a never-completed arms deal to buy guns that would be smuggled from the Philippines.

The 47-page prosecution brief gives more details of the incidents, including previously undisclosed quotations from wiretaps and secret recordings.

Yee is described in the brief as telling an undercover agent during a March 2014 discussion of the planned arms deal that he appreciates contributions to his secretary of state campaign.

Yee is quoted in the brief as saying:

“I can be of help to you for 10 months or I can be of help to you for eight years. I think eight years is a lot better than ten months.”

Yee’s attorney, James Lassart, filed a motion Wednesday asking Breyer for permission to file part of the defense sentencing brief under seal but as of mid-evening had not filed the brief itself.

Jackson’s attorneys proposed a five-year sentence for their client.  Prosecutors asked for 10 years.