Calif. State Senator Charged With Trafficking Arms in Exchange for Campaign Contributions

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 26 2014 9:43 PM

Calif. State Senator Charged With Trafficking Arms in Exchange for Campaign Contributions

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California State senator and candidate for San Francisco mayor Leland Yee waits in line to cast his ballot.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On Wednesday in America a politician was discovered to be corrupt and was arrested for his misdeeds. It’s not exactly the stuff of the silver screen—unless that politician happens to be Leland Yee. The tale of the California state senator’s corrupt dealings aren’t the ho-hum stuff of local news, it could star Brad Pitt. Here’s what Yee was up to.

On Wednesday, the Democrat was arrested on corruption charges, but not just any type of corruption—conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms. That’s pretty heady stuff, particularly, the San Jose Mercury News points out, for a politician that’s “among the state Senate's most outspoken advocates both of gun control and of good-government initiatives.” You might ask: Was there some sort of misunderstanding? Was Yee sneakily looking for a gun or two for his private collection? Nope. He solicited campaign donations in exchange for arranging a meeting between an undercover FBI agent and an arms trafficker.

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And that’s just the beginning. Here’s more from the Associated Press:

Yee discussed helping the agent get weapons worth $500,000 to $2.5 million, including shoulder fired automatic weapons and missiles, and took him through the entire process of acquiring them from a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines to bringing them to the United States, according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Emmanuel V. Pascua. He was unhappy with his life and told the agent he wanted to hide out in the Philippines, according to the affidavit. “There’s a part of me that wants to be like you,” he told the undercover agent, according to the affidavit. “You know how I’m going to be like you? Just be a free agent there...” According to court documents, Yee performed “official acts” in exchange for donations from undercover FBI agents, as he sought to dig himself out of a $70,000 debt incurred during a failed San Francisco mayoral bid.

Along with the arms charges, Yee also faces six other charges of defrauding state's citizens. Each corruption count, according to the San Jose Mercury News, “is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, while the gun-trafficking count is punishable by up to five years and $250,000.”

*This post has been updated to include the fact that Yee is a Democrat.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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