Beware of the FBI’s shaky record of investigative integrity

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The arrest of Leland Yee, California state senator, accused of graft, is the latest of a string of Chinese Americans ensnared by the FBI, some caught red handed and others unwitting victims cornered by a bureau of investigation that frequently acted above the laws they were sworn to protect.

In the case of Yee, based on the FBI criminal complaint, he was almost an accidental by-product of a five-year undercover investigation on a gangster that has proclaimed that he has reformed and gone legit since getting out of jail. According to the FBI, Raymond Chow, the main person of FBI’s interest, offered to help Yee in the gun running business and that’s how Yee came to the FBI attention.

Yee was driven by the need to pay off a debt of $70,000 incurred from his unsuccessful run for mayor of San Francisco, reported the affidavit by the FBI agent. Yee faced term limits on his Senate seat and, since the unsuccessful run for mayor, was planning to run for Secretary of State.

Before he could raise campaign funds for his next campaign, however, he had to pay off his previously incurred debt. Thus according to the FBI, Yee was tempted by the undercover agent into offering illegal undertakings in exchange for illegal contributions to his political campaign.

Yee is now on bail and his attorney indicated that he plans to plead not guilty. The whole story and where the truth lie remains to be told and pending Yee’s day in court.

In the past, Chinese Americans who stumbled had in common the exposure to the dark side of American politics tied to money — preferably a lot of money.

The first major cause célèbre was John Huang, a member of the Clinton administration. President Bill Clinton’s political enemies sought all kinds of ways to embarrass him and bring him down. They accused Huang of raising illegal campaign funds from China and elsewhere from Asia to help Clinton get elected.

Huang was eventually allowed to resign from his post and fade away to his home in California. He was never charged and did not spend a day in jail but paid dearly in emotional stress, drastic reduction in net worth from legal bills and the dismay of seeing the dirty side of American politics.

Unlike John Huang who was an enthusiastic campaign fundraiser because he thought he was participating in the exercise of democracy, American style, Norman Hsu simply ran a con by pretending to be a legitimate bundler of big donors. His ability to get closer to major political candidate, such as Hillary Clinton, gave him credibility that enabled him to operate a Ponzi scheme. He is now in jail.

On the other hand, Wen Ho Lee, a scientist, also spent 10 months in jail based on evidence fabricated by the FBI, even though he didn’t conduct any of the activity he was accused of doing. He was clearly a victim of racial profiling and the desire of Clinton’s political opponents to use anti-China sentiments to embarrass the administration.

In the end, the presiding judge had to apologize to Lee for government misconduct, but nonetheless to justify Lee’s 10 months of solitary confinement, Lee had to plead guilty to unauthorized downloading of confidential information.

When the government makes a mistake, the victim still has to pay. The usual approach is to justify judicial abuse by forcing the victim to plead guilty to some misdemeanor in exchange for freedom.

The most recent example was the Bo Jiang case in Virginia. After seven weeks in jail, the government had to let him go because they did not find any evidence of illegal activity except for xenophobic accusations by Congressman Frank Wolf. Jiang has to plea guilty to downloading pornography into his government computer in exchange for the jail time already served.

Like Bo Jiang, Dr. Su Haiping was a subcontractor doing work for NASA in Moffett Field in Mountain View. He was asked to take a lie detector test and then abruptly escorted off the premises. NASA asked that his employment be terminated, but his contractor employer refused because they could not find any fault in Su’s work. Su is now suing the U.S. government for his treatment and when he wins, it will be a historic event.

Probably the most appalling in the annals of FBI misconduct and government prosecutorial abuse was the case involving Denise Woo, at the time one of FBI’s own agents. Her superior took offense when she indicated that her undercover work could not substantiate his suspicion of the surveillance target being a spy.

Instead of dropping the investigation, he had her prosecuted for allegedly abetting the enemy agent despite failing to find any evidence that the alleged was an agent of any kind. Woo had to cop a misdemeanor plea in order to get on with her life, albeit no longer employed by the FBI. As for her supervisor agent, he was later forced to retired after he was found sleeping with Katrina Leung, otherwise known as principal of the Parlor Maid affair. To this day, the FBI remains undecided as to which country Leung was spying on and for.

At this point, the media’s reports on Leland Yee draw primarily from the FBI affidavit in the 137-page criminal complaint and inevitably presenting only the government’s point of view. Even so, a careful reading will lead one to conclude that the undercover FBI agents masquerading as unsavory underworld characters are gifted actors with enterprising minds, excellent in proposing and initiating unlawful schemes to tempt the unwary.

Apparently Yee in playing the game of being a successful politician faced the constant pressure to raise money and fell from grace. By any measure of the way American politics is played today, the amount of money Yee needed to keep him viable is pathetically tiny relative to the hundreds of millions the upper 1 percent of 1 percent can donate to super PACs, and all legal and according to Hoyle.

Despite the fact billionaires write checks in the order of millions, their activity rarely captures much attention. But the Leland Yee story has legs and will play for months to come.

George Koo follows the prosecution of Chinese Americans in the U.S.

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