Yee appears in court, bail kept at $500,000, ordered to return April 8

Leland Yee; file photo

Leland Yee; file photo

(Bay City News Service) — Suspended State Sen. Leland Yee appeared briefly in federal court in San Francisco on March 31 and was told that his bail will remain at $500,000 while he awaits a trial on corruption and gun trafficking charges.

Yee, 65, wearing a dark gray business suit and white shirt, said nothing during the appearance before U.S. Magistrate Nathaniel Cousins.

Cousins ordered him to return to court on April 8 for either an arraignment on a possible grand jury indictment or, if no indictment is issued, a preliminary hearing on a criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors last week.

Outside of court, Yee’s attorney, Paul DeMeester, said he expects an indictment and said Yee will plead not guilty.

DeMeester declined to comment on whether Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, is considering stepping down from his state Senate post.

Yee was arrested by the FBI on March 26, withdrew his candidacy for secretary of state on March 27, and was suspended along with two other legislators by the state Senate on March 28.

“The politics is now behind us. We’re concentrating on the case,” said DeMeester, who also declined to comment on Yee’s defense strategy.

A grand jury indictment would replace the criminal complaint filed under seal March 24 and is the normal next step in a federal criminal case. It could contain either the same charges as the complaint or additional charges.

Yee currently faces six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of his honest services by allegedly soliciting and accepting campaign contributions in exchange for using his position to aid the purported donors, who were in fact undercover FBI agents.

He is also accused of a seventh charge of trafficking in firearms without a license, in connection with an alleged proposal for an undercover agent posing as a Mafia member to buy $2 million worth of guns from an arms dealer in the Philippines. The undercover agent allegedly told Yee and others that he might sell the guns in Africa.

Yee is one of 26 men and women charged in the complaint, which was unsealed March 26 after Yee and most of the other defendants were arrested.

The charges include money laundering, drug distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, trafficking in firearms without a license and an alleged plot by four men to arrange a murder for hire. The alleged murder plot was discussed with an undercover FBI agent and was not carried out.

Another defendant, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, wearing yellow Alameda County Jail clothing, also appeared briefly March 31. After Assistant Federal Public Defender Elizabeth Falk said her office had not yet located a lawyer for Chow, Cousins ordered Chow to return the court of U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero April 2 for identification of a defense attorney.

Chow, who is being held without bail, is the current leader of San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong organization and was previously convicted of racketeering and drug distribution conspiracy.

Yee was originally granted release on the $500,000 bail by Cousins after his arrest on March 26. Prosecutors told the magistrate March 31 that a bail study by the court’s pre-sentencing staff recommended no change in that decision. Yee is due to post security for part of the amount at the hearing on April 8.

While declining to comment on Yee’s defense strategy, DeMeester said his reading of the 137-page complaint raised questions about why it took so long for prosecutors to file charges in an investigation that began in 2011.

“A very good question is what took three years,” DeMeester said.

“Another very good question is the allocation of scarce federal resources, fairness to Leland Yee and fairness to the public,” the defense attorney said.

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