The arrest of state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco on federal charges Wednesday raises many questions. Chief among them: What is going on with the California Senate?
This makes the third senator — all Democrats— to have been indicted or convicted of crimes this calendar year, though the latest charges are the most serious by far.
The affidavit implicating Yee outlines an intricate web that includes Chinatown organized crime figures; large-scale marijuana growing; Eastern European arms dealers engaged in money laundering; firearm, cigarette and liquor trafficking; murder for hire; and bookmaking. Yee, called "Uncle Leland" by conspirators, allegedly used his office to help the criminal enterprise.
It's fair to say that Yee's campaign for secretary of state is dead. That he was seeking the office that oversees elections and fundraising would be laughable, except there is nothing funny about the conspiracy described by the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco. Yee's work on gun control legislation is ironic, too, given that he is implicated in gun running.
The charges facing Yee aren't related to those of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, who was indicted last month on charges of accepting bribes. This suggests that, rather than one or two aberrant senators, there's a culture of corruption in the Capitol.
That at least has been the tone of public discourse. News of Yee's arrest set social media afire with comments that indicate deep mistrust of elected officials. This tweet by @CaliNorte650 exemplifies the cynicism: "The fact that you can't be a decent human being & a politician at the same time shouldn't be a surprise to anyone anymore."
It's disappointing that many people assume all politicians are dirty. They aren't. But it is important for authorities to throw the book at those who are.
In Yee's case, the U.S. attorney is taking the lead because these are federal charges. But all prosecuting agencies ought to be keeping watch on public officials, including the Fresno County District Attorney's Office.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, for example, has had a very active public integrity division for more than a decade. It counts high-profile victories such as the prosecution and conviction of the officials who looted the blue-collar city of Bell. It also was the L.A. DA's Office that won fraud and perjury convictions against Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood.
Charges don't automatically mean Yee is guilty. But the serious allegations against him underscore the need for the people's prosecutors to be vigilant.
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