Former state Sen. Leland Yee was sentenced by a federal judge in San Francisco Wednesday to five years in prison for his political corruption conviction.
Yee’s campaign fundraiser, political consultant and former school board president Keith Jackson was also sentenced to nine years in prison by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer.
Yee, 67, and Jackson, 51, pleaded guilty before Breyer on July 1 to one count of participating in a racketeering conspiracy to solicit bribes in the form of campaign contributions in exchange for political favors by Yee.
They admitted that Yee received more than $40,000 in such payments, funneled to him by Jackson, and also admitted to plotting in a never-completed international arms deal in which weapons would be smuggled from the Philippines.
Breyer told Yee he was aware of his history of public service, but said:
“I don’t feel I can be lenient. The crimes you have committed were essentially an attack on a democratic institution.”
Breyer said citizens must have trust that elected officials will act in the public interest and said:
“You abused that trust.”
Yee told Breyer:
“I have taken full responsibility for my actions. … I have accepted and understand the crimes I have committed. … Nothing will ever take away the pain I have caused my family, friends, constituents and the institution I represented.”
Yee, who has a Ph.D. in child psychology, spent more than 25 years in public service before his arrest in March 2014. He served on the San Francisco school board and Board of Supervisors before being elected to the state Assembly and then Senate.
He is a Democrat and represented the western half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County in the state Senate.
At the time of his arrest, he was campaigning to become California’s secretary of state and needed money for that campaign and to retire the debt from his unsuccessful run for mayor in 2011.
Prosecutor Susan Badger alleged that he was “desperate for money” and abused the public trust “in the worst possible way — he wanted to retain his power” by remaining in public office.
Breyer told Yee that “indicating your vote was for sale” was “a serious violation of the public trust.” He said Yee’s participation in the gun-running scheme was hypocritical and “inexplicable” since he publicly favored gun control.
The judge said:
“The answer is money. You did it for money for the perpetuation of power. That to me is the most venal thing.”
Prosecutors had sought an eight-year sentence for Yee while defense attorneys asked for a sentence as low as four years and three months in prison.
Yee and Jackson were among 29 people charged in a broad indictment that included both the political corruption charges against Yee and Jackson and organized-crime charges against Chinatown tong leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, Jackson and others.
Chow is the only defendant to go to trial thus far. He was convicted in Breyer’s court in January of 162 counts, including the murder of his predecessor as leader of the Chee Kung Tong fraternal association, the attempted murder of another rival, racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to transport stolen goods and money laundering. He will be sentenced on March 23.
At least a dozen others, including Yee and Jackson, have pleaded guilty to various charges.
Yee and Jackson have been free on bail since their arrest. They are to report to prison within 30 days.
Breyer told Jackson during his sentencing that his activities were “akin to being a one-man crime wave.” “You were willing to do anything so long as there was some compensation and it didn’t matter as to the nature of what it was,” the judge said.
Jackson served as president of the San Francisco Unified School District board in 1997 and later became a political consultant.
He was originally charged with additionally participating in the separate organized-crime racketeering conspiracy, selling guns without a license and joining in a never-completed murder-for-hire plan suggested by an undercover FBI agent. Those charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Breyer said it was especially disturbing and “close to being unforgivable” that Jackson drew his son, Brandon Jackson, into criminal activities.
Brandon Jackson, 29, and sports agent Marlon Sullivan, 31, pleaded guilty on July 1 to participating in the organized-crime racketeering conspiracy. They admitted to engaging in sales of guns and cocaine with undercover agents and to participating in the murder-for-hire plot.
Breyer sentenced Brandon Jackson to four years and six months in prison and Sullivan to five years and six months. Both have been in custody since their arrests in March 2014 and can receive credit for time served.
Breyer told both that they have time to rebuild their lives after serving their prison terms.
He told Sullivan:
“When you emerge, your life is ahead of you. It’s really up to you, you can overcome.”
The case stemmed from a five-year operation in which various undercover FBI agents posed as a Mafia member from the East Coast, cocaine dealers, and businessmen who wanted Yee to act on their behalf. The probe began as an investigation of Chow and other Chee Kung Tong members, but eventually led through Keith Jackson to Yee.
The bribes and payments Yee acknowledged 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 a meeting to discuss the arms deal.
Defense attorney James Lassart said in court Wednesday that the total amount of those and other acknowledged payments was $44,000.