Ex-US lawmaker in PH gun smuggling pleads guilty
MANILA, Philippines – Former California State Senator Leland Yee pleaded guilty to racketeering charges before a packed federal court in San Francisco, USA, on July 1.
He initially pleaded not guilty when he was first indicted in 2014.
Yee faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison with a fine of $250,000, and the possibility of supervised release after 3 years. Sentencing is scheduled for October 21.
“Mr. Yee must now live with the consequences of betraying the trust that was placed in him when he became a public servant,” said US Attorney Melinda Haag.
She continued: “It is particularly disappointing and troubling when our elected officials violate their obligation to fairly represent their constituents. This office will continue to devote the resources necessary to ensure that our elected officials govern within the law.”
"Senator Yee's admission of guilt today brings some measure of justice to the true victims of his crimes: the people of the state of California," said David J. Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Office.
The FBI released a 137-page affidavit in 2014, the result of a 5-year investigation into the senator, along with 26 others who were initially charged in the case. (READ: US lawmaker trading firearms with PH muslim rebels?)
According to the US Department of Justice, Yee admitted to taking money in exchange for political favors and conspiring to smuggle at least $2 million worth in arms from the Philippines to the United States through Cagayan de Oro City into the Port of New Jersey.
Yee was a popular figure in Asian American politics and a favorite among Filipino American leaders and voters, becoming the highest ranking Democrat in California in 2004, before being elected into the state senate in 2006.
Before entering politics, Yee was a child psychologist who worked as a therapist for the San Francisco Mental Health Department.
The district he represented, which includes San Mateo County, is home to Daly City. Daly City has the highest concentration of Filipinos and Filipino Americans on the mainland United States. During his career as a politician, Yee was known to push for initiatives benefitting the Fil-Am community like equity for Filipino World War II Veterans.
A dentist from Iligan City, Wilson Lim, was Yee’s main link to the Philippines. The dentist migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 90s. (READ: US gun smuggling: Who is Dr Wilson S Lim?)
The undercover agents discussed with Yee how Lim would be able to smuggle weapons from the Philippines into the United States through ports in Florida, and planned to smuggle weapons into the United States again, this time through ports in New Jersey.
Yee demonstrated his knowledge of the intricacies of the armed rebels in Mindanao and brought up with undercover agents how some government officials actually colluded with the rebels.
In a meeting on March 11, Lim advised the agent that he would meet with “the head of a Muslim group.” Yee told the agent that Muslims in Mindanao had access “to a lot of money.” Yee said that while he was in Mindanao, he got to shoot some of the weapons, including automatic rifles.
According to the charges, the amount from the pending arms deal would amount to US$2 million (or about P90 million). Among the guns discussed at the meeting were M-16 automatic rifles.
It's ironic, coming from someone who was named California’s “anti-gun” and “anti-violent video game” senator by the local media.
Yee and Lim, who were both allegedly strapped for cash, had made several trips to the Philippines prior to their arrests in 2014.
Lim, 60, died in August 2014 soon after his arrest. Lim had previously been suffering from a heart condition and friends say that the case probably worsened it. – Rappler.com