As we all know by now, Leland Yee was arrested earlier this week on accusations of bribery and corruption. I read through the 137-page affidavit and reported on the specifics of Yee's alleged wrong-doings which included buying campaign donations with political favors and attempting to broker an arms deal.
As Yee is one of the more notable critics of violent video games (he authored the video game law that the Supreme Court shot down in Brown v EMA), gamers have had a field day pointing out how Yee's real-life behavior mirrored those of fictional characters in the games he railed against. If you've paid attention to Yee-centric discussions on message boards, comment threads or even our own Shout Box, you've no doubt seen people talk about Yee's connections to the Chinese mafia – including organized crime boss Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow – and how his purported weapons deal involved rocket launchers.
While these comments are based on information found in the FBI affidavit, they're becoming rapidly distorted versions of what was actually said. So, let's take a look at the affidavit and see what's what.
The first thing most people don't seem to realize is that this isn't about Leland Yee. Yee is just one of 25 people involved in a multi-year operation targeting Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, the leader of the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong (CKT), essentially the Chinese mafia.
How'd Yee manage to get swept up with that crowd? Well, an undercover FBI agent infiltrated the CKT as a consultant and met another CKT consultant, Keith Jackson. Jackson, it turned out, happened to be involved with raising campaign funds for Yee and solicited the undercover agent to make contributions. The agent got Jackson and Yee in touch with other undercover agents who would make donations in exchange for various political favors.
Okay, so was Yee ever directly involved with Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow or the CKT?
In Nov. 2012, one of the undercover agents asked Jackson if he knew anybody who could help Chow get an ankle monitoring device removed. Jackson said Yee might be able to make a call on Chow's behalf in exchange for paying down the remaining $5000 debt left from Yee's failed bid for mayor. Jackson called Yee that day and said "our friend Raymond" needed help.
Jackson and Yee met the next day. Yee knew who Chow was and refused to help saying, "shit, as much as I want that five thousand, I can’t do that man. Shit. Fuck. Shit."
Yee seemed to want to keep as much distance from Chow as he could, citing the fact that Chow had cooperated with authorities during an earlier federal prosecution by naming names. Said Yee: "On Shrimpboy… you just got to be careful… let’s not get too close, okay? …he’s still hot stuff. I just talked to some of the people who, you know, in the families, and, you know, he’s still hot stuff. So we just gotta be careful, man."
It's not clear who these people "in the families" are.
A month later, Yee instead agreed to deliver an official State Senate proclamation acknowledging the CKT’s 165th anniversary in exchange for a $6800 donation toward his Secretary of State campaign. Yee did not attend the CKT's celebration dinner and had a staffer deliver it in his stead.
As far as I can tell from the affidavit, Yee and Chow were only ever in the same room together at a Hop Sing Tong (HST) dinner on Feb. 28, 2014 where Yee gave a speech. HST is the organization Chow was a member of before he became leader of the CKT. As far as I know, they never met or spoke.
So what about the rocket launchers?
The undercover agent said he was looking to purchase firearms. Jackson said Yee knew a guy from "a long time ago and was working with him to ship weapons to a foreign country" and would play middleman in exchange for campaign donations.
A $5000 check was made out to Yee (another thousand or two in cash went through Jackson) and for several months, right up until a few weeks ago, Yee and Jackson met with the undercover agent to broker an arms deal. Yee was asked three separate times if his guy could provide rocket launchers but he usually dodge the question and talked about supplying automatic weapons. Yee eventually acknowledged the request and said he'd see what his contact could do.
So, that's where all the mafia and rocket launcher stuff comes from. I saw nothing in the affidavit to suggest that Yee had strong ties to the Chinese mafia, he doesn't appear to be buds with Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, and he never mentioned "rocket launchers" in his sales pitch for brokering an arms deal.
If you'd like to read the affidavit for yourself, you can do so here. Yee is but a small part of a pretty amazing story including dozens of people committing or conspiring to commit a wide range of crimes including drug running, money laundering, stolen property, fake credit cards and murder for hire.
-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Contributing Editor Andrew Eisen