Pubdate: Wed, 09 Apr 2014
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


Now is not a fun time to work in Sacramento. Everyone -- staffers,
lobbyists, even the electeds themselves -- acts as if everyone else is
wearing a wire, one Capitol worker told me. That's what happens during
hunting season.

Once every decade or so, the federal Justice Department goes fishing
for the biggest catch there is: a corrupt public official. In the
1980s, it was "Shrimpgate," where feds pretending to be a
shrimp-processing company solicited favors in exchange for cash (one
of their targets: then-Assembly Speaker Willie Lewis Brown).

In 2004, the feds probed East Bay Sen. Don Perata (he, like Brown, was
clean). Now, in the third indictment of a Democratic lawmaker in three
months, the feds have San Francisco's state Sen. Leland Yee and his
political consultant Keith Jackson, both of whom used to served on the
city's school board.

And to bait Yee, the feds used marijuana.

An undercover agent assumed the character of an Arizona-based medical
marijuana "businessman." This weed magnate, seeking opportunities to
expand to California, asked Yee for introductions to other lawmakers
and to write specific new weed laws, all in exchange for campaign cash.

According to the FBI's affidavit, they got their senator. -Then they
got the big stuff: murder-for-hire, drug trafficking, and heavy
weapons bought from Filipino rebels.

This investigation didn't begin with weed. For a few years at least,
neither marijuana nor Sacramento had anything to do with any of this.

The feds were after supposedly-reformed Chinatown mobster Raymond
"Shrimp Boy" Chow and his crew. They wanted Chow -- who dodged a long
prison sentence in exchange for flipping on his old partner -- for
possible connections to Allan Leung's 2006 unsolved murder, but also
for making a public spectacle of himself as a re-made man. The feds
hate a showboat. They really hate a showboat they feel should be in

But why weed? An attorney for one of the 26 people indicted two weeks
ago has a theory.

The feds -- the best-trained, best-funded, most-powerful law
enforcement officers in the land -- spent four years trolling us,
attorney James Brosnahan told a courtroom.

And once they had a Chinatown crime syndicate and a California state
senator on the hook, they figured they might as well go after
California's cannabis industry.

For years, federal law enforcement has been pushing a narrative.
Heavily armed crooks grow pot and ship it all over the country,
turning massive profits, all under the cover of California's medical
marijuana laws.

Last summer's Cole memo sounded like a truce: Feds would lay off
state-legal weed as long as kids were kept safe, rules were followed,
and there were no ties to organized crime.

That memo dropped just as federal law enforcement was asking Yee and
Jackson - whose son, Brandon, reportedly made a small fortune by
shipping marijuana by the bale to the East Coast - for kevlar vests
and heavy weapons to protect a fictitious massive Mendocino County pot

Targeting Yee is strange. If you wanted something done on legal weed
in Sacramento, Leland Yee was not your man. The senator had been
invisible on the issue for years. If he was happy to take a bribe from
supposed mob-connected marijuana dealers to influence pot policy, he
was also happy to burn them: Yee did nothing on marijuana in the
Capitol last year.

The feds already had Yee on public corruption charges, after he agreed
to honor Chow's Chinatown organization Ghee Kung Tong with an official
government proclamation in exchange for campaign cash. Yet it was only
after that that the undercover agent posing as a marijuana maven
entered the picture.

Yee wasn't the only politician they might have tried to snare.
According to their affidavit, the undercover met with four lawmakers:
Yee, and three anonymous politicians, state Senators 1 and 2, and
Legislator 1.

Legislator 1, whom the feds asked to meet but Yee dismissed as not
having enough "clout" to get anything done, is almost certainly
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. His years-long quest to legalize (or at least
regulate) weed is still unfulfilled. His connections to Chinatown also
don't go beyond a plate of potstickers -- but he is the
weed-friendliest lawmaker in the state.

So far, one lawmaker has come forward and said that he met with the
federal plant, a "long-haired guy in casual clothes." It's State Sen.
Bob Huff, the Republican minority leader.

If the feds were trying to disrupt the bipartisan support needed to
push drug reform forward and otherwise use covert ops to influence the
legislative process, they would try to lure the boss of the small
California GOP.

"They were throwing out a line and seeing what they could get," a
Sacramento regular told me.

But why weed? Medical marijuana regulations have nothing to do with an
alleged Chinatown underground that dealt in stolen cigarettes and
liquor. Chow and Yee and their crews were already in the bag when the
feds dangled marijuana in front of Yee's face. Inserting marijuana
into the mix looks very much like a Justice Department attempt to
disrupt the drug legalization movement.  
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