Leland Yee Hit with Racketeering Charges Under RICO Law
A new federal racketeering indictment unsealed on Friday charges California state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) with operating a "cash for votes" criminal enterprise. The indictment replaces charges brought against Yee in March, when he was indicted on arms trafficking and public corruption charges.
The new indictment alleges that Yee conspired with political consultant Keith Jackson and others to accept campaign contributions and cash from businesses in exchange for legislative action, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In one instance, Yee allegedly agreed to accept $60,000 from an NFL owner in exchange for votes on a professional athlete workers compensation bill. Yee also allegedly accepted campaign contributions for his 2011 San Francisco mayoral bid and 2014 campaign for secretary of state in exchange for key votes.
As part of the racketeering charges, Yee is also accused of conspiring to traffic in "missile systems designed to destroy aircraft."
The indictment includes charges against the same 29 people involved in the earlier indictment, including Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow and Yee political consultant Keith Jackson.
Yee faces three new charges, according to the 148-page indictment: one count of "conspiracy to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity," and two counts of "conspiracy to obtain property under the color of official right." The new charges fall under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO Act, in which activities performed as part of a criminal organization carry larger criminal penalties.
"RICO allows the prosecution to tie together different types of illegal activities and conspiracies. Thus, it is a more expansive charge," Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson told the Times. "From a public relations point of view, being charged with 'racketeering' certainly sounds worse and connotes the activities of organized crime."
If convicted, Yee could face up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the San Jose Mercury News. He previously pleaded not guilty to the charges in the March indictment and remains in office on paid suspension.
Yee abandoned his 2014 bid for secretary of state after being hit with arms trafficking and corruption charges in March. However, it was too late for his name to be taken off the ballot. He finished third out of eight candidates in California's June primary, receiving 380,361 votes.