The dark side of Leland Yee’s Pinoy connection


Long-time supporter for the Filipino-American community and the first Asian-American to be appointed Speaker pro Tempore (in 2014), former California State Sen. Leland Yee was sentenced to five years in prison last month.

He pleaded guilty in July last year to, among others, bribery and trafficking in illegal weapons after he was implicated in an FBI sting operation in March, 2014 in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

US Northern California District Judge Charles Breyer sentenced Yee to 60 months imprisonment to begin within the next 30 days (sentenced was passed on February 24, 2016), a $20,000 fine, three years of supervised release and forfeiture of certain property.

Yee endeared himself to many Filipinos in 2001 when he fought for World War II vets who were denied their benefits and laid-off airport screeners. He spoke against ABC Studios’ controversial TV episode of Desperate Housewives that joked about medical diplomas from the Philippines in 2007. A year later, Yee backed up hospital employees banned from speaking Tagalog. In 2009, his legislation declared October as Filipino-American History month.

Yee was also instrumental in the 2007 appointment of Ray Satorre, the first Filipino-American to serve on the State Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. Yee also supported fund-raisers to aid victims of disasters in the Philippines like the earthquake in Guinsagon, Leyte in 2006. Yee was a regular columnist in Filipino-American publications, attended and spoke in countless Filipino community events and reportedly ate adobo with gusto.

In 2011, Edwin Lee defeated Yee and became San Francisco Mayor. Yee was also in debt. Nearing term limits, Yee decided to go for the office of the secretary of state in 2014 but he needed campaign money.

According to justice department records, Yee agreed to use his influence on the Department of Health, connect a donor with a senator on marijuana legislation and his guaranteed vote restricting Worker’s comp payments to injured NFL players, all in exchange for donations to his campaign. Later, Yee got involved with others in a scheme to smuggle $2 million’s worth of various weapons from the Philippines to the US in exchange for a $5,000 contribution to his secretary of state campaign.

Here, the Philippine connection gets darker. The document identified Yee’s associate as the late Daly City Dentist Wilson Lim. Lim, who died in August, 2014, reportedly had connections with “a captain in the Philippine military” who had access to weapons. The Captain was allegedly also the source of weapons for Muslim rebels in the Philippines. Yee said that Lim was originally from Mindanao.

In March, 2014, a Forbes story said that Yee knew he was exchanging money for arms with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). And that the MILF needed money “trying to overthrow the (Philippine) government.”

The Forbes story also revealed that “Sen. Yee believed (the MILF) was being secretly funded by the Philippine government in an effort to create a distraction from the corruption within the Philippine government.”

This was the same Leland Yee who introduced legislation advocating gun control and banning violent video games for children. After the Sandy Hook massacre (December, 2012), Yee came up with a ban on quick-change magazines on assault weapons – at that time, the toughest gun control legislation. He even won the Gun Violence Prevention Honor Roll by the Brady Campaign.

Now 67, Yee recalled his years of public service and begged for his family’s, especially his sick wife’s, sake when the Court passed its judgment.

Breyer was not moved and called Yee’s turn around on gun control as “hypocritical” and his actions “vile”.

Nevertheless, the charges against Yee were first reported to carry with them 20 and then eight years imprisonment. Yee got five years. (Harvey Barkin)