Here Are Your Leland Yee-Tony Soprano Talking Points

Mar 27 at 2pm

By Josh Wilson

Where has the political opportunism of State Sen. Leland Yee taken him? Dragonheads, Chinese secret societies, Freemasons(!), weapons trafficking, and a spectacular, paramilitary-style arrest on public corruption charges that led to Yee quitting the secretary of state race.

It's a political downfall practically made for TV, with crime lords as colorful as John Gotti or his fictional progeny Tony Soprano, complete with dramatic overseas locations. Imagine the pitch:

"It's the story of an ambitious state senator campaigning for a plum gig as Secretary of State of California. He's up to his neck in campaign and mortgage debt and god knows what else, he's got a record of corruption allegations, and he falls in with a reformed, flashy mobster from Hong Kong nicknamed 'Shrimp Boy' by his grandmother. Next thing you know, he's caught in an FBI sting for a scheme to ship arms to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao, and the Feds are prying open a safe in Chinatown with the Jaws of Life."

Yee's political career was full of opportunity. He staked out good-citizen positions on human services and child welfare, and climbed steadily as a politician in the socially conscious Bay Area.

Yet the tinge of vice has followed him for the duration.

A Bay Citizen profile that ran during his 2011 San Francisco mayoral campaign quoted Chinatown political organizer Rose Pak and others as condemning Yee's "moral turpitude" and lack of principle. 

A 2011 SF Weekly investigation into Yee's career is no less flattering, noting that Yee took big campaign donations from casino and health-insurance interests, and then authored dozens of bills in Sacramento "sponsored" by those same organizations.

A former San Francisco supervisor who backed massage-parlor crackdowns, Yee was pulled over twice in 1999 when the SFPD suspected him of trolling Capp Street, known for its prostitution trade.

He is alleged to have applied Wite-Out to revise "stacks" of client records while working as an administrator at a human-services nonprofit — Asian Americans for Community Involvement. And his personal finances didn't add up — the records were "incomplete," and his $1 million in mortgage debt seemed far beyond what his family income could support. 

A career retrospective in the San Jose Mercury News describes Yee as "enigmatic," "paradoxical," someone who didn't connect with the party at its core and lacked any endorsements from "top Democrats" during his 2011 mayoral run. 

It may be that his opportunism took him to a place of remarkable desperation and hypocrisy. How else to reconcile his support of strict gun legislation with his blithely ironic entanglement in an international arms-smuggling scheme? 

With $70,000 in campaign debt, there certainly could be motivation for a corrupt individual to engage some sort of political scheme, but ... arms trafficking? If this is true, he'd have been better off sticking with the neighborhood tapioca-shop shakedowns of former San Francisco supervisor Ed Jew.

Leland. Have the winds of opportunity really blown you this far from home? How could your extraordinary personal achievements and service not have been enough? Where they ever enough? Was this always something waiting to happen? The news plot thickens. 

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