SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The California State Senate has suspended a prominent Democratic lawmaker. Sen. Leland Yee was accused this week of public corruption in a case that has stunned California. In a federal complaint, Mr. Yee is accused of participating in an elaborate conspiracy involving guns, drugs, gangs and bribery. The court documents read a little like a pulp crime novel, as NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: State Sen. Leland Yee was known as a champion of open government and gun control. But not anymore. A 137-page federal affidavit accuses the lawmaker of soliciting and taking bribes from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for political favors. He's also accused of gun trafficking - not just any guns, but automatic weapons and shoulder-fired missiles.
COREY COOK: I've just never seen anything like this before. It's a crime story. It struck me as something you might see on one of the shows on at 9 o'clock on a weekday.
GONZALES: Corey Cook teaches politics at the University of San Francisco.
COOK: It's well beyond the - sadly - typical scandal of a politician who's doing public favors for private gain.
GONZALES: According to the affidavit, Yee was in desperate need for cash to settle a $70,000 debt he ran up in an unsuccessful bid for San Francisco mayor three years ago. And he needed more cash to run for secretary of state. That's where one of Yee's money men, Keith Jackson, comes in. Jackson is also named in the affidavit. He introduced to Yee to a guy named Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, a convicted felon.
At 5-foot-5, Chow is a commanding figure in Chinatown. In recent years, Chow has claimed to have left the criminal life. He's the leader of the Ghee Kung Tong brotherhood, an above-board Chinese fraternal organization. The FBI and local law enforcement have long suspected that Chow was still involved in crime. He loved public attention. In this 2008 episode of the History Channel's "Gangland" series, Chow bragged about how much power he once wielded.
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GONZALES: In the federal affidavit, Chow is quoted as boasting that he's still calling the shots in Chinatown's underworld. He says he approves all activity, even as far as settling disputes among gang members. Federal undercover agents penetrated Chow's organization. They say they found evidence of weapons and drug trafficking, money laundering and influence peddling. And it was in the course of that investigation, the FBI says, that they stumbled upon Sen. Leland Yee. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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