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Leland Yee case: plea deal appears likely

Former state Sen. Leland Yee appears on the brink of entering an unspecified plea deal to resolve a sweeping racketeering indictment that accuses him of accepting bribes for political favors.

Yee is scheduled to appear before San Francisco U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer on Wednesday for a change of plea hearing, which has been set on the judge’s public calendar. The terms of any plea agreement have not been made public.

Yee was set to go on trial on the political corruption, money laundering and gun trafficking charges in August along with three other defendants, political consultant Keith Jackson, his son, Brandon Jackson, and former sports agent Marlon Sullivan.

Those three defendants are also on Breyer’s calendar for change of plea hearings.

James Lassart, Yee’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment. Raj Chatterjee, Jackson’s lawyer, declined comment. Lawyers for the other defendants could not immediately be reached for comment. U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag also could not be reached.

Federal judges ordinarily put change of plea hearings on their calendars when defense lawyers and prosecutors have reached agreement to resolve a criminal case.

The 66-year-old Yee, first elected to the state Senate in 2006, faced a sweeping indictment that charged him with using his political office and campaigns for San Francisco mayor and secretary of state as racketeering enterprises. The U.S. attorney’s office last year added the racketeering charges against Yee and dozens of other defendants in the case, including reputed gang leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.

Prosecutors also tacked on new money laundering charges against Yee late last year.

The San Francisco Democrat is alleged to have traded his political juice for money to pay off campaign debts as he pursued a run for secretary of state. Prosecutors also say he was caught in wiretapped conversations with undercover FBI agents offering to broker an international arms deal and carry out political favors for bribes.

In recent months, lawyers for Yee and other defendants have moved to suppress evidence obtained from those recorded conversations, but the material has been under court seal. Breyer was scheduled to consider those arguments at a hearing next week.

Among the key allegations in the racketeering indictment is that Yee agreed to take $60,000 from an undercover FBI agent — which he believed was coming from a National Football League team owner — in exchange for his and another senator’s vote on a bill dealing with workers’ compensation insurance for pro athletes.

“We gotta juice this thing, ” Yee allegedly told the agent.

Resting on a four-year undercover FBI operation that includes countless hours of audio and video surveillance, the case originated as a probe of San Francisco’s Asian organized crime and Chow, a central figure in the indictment. Chow has pleaded not guilty to the racketeering charges, and his lawyers have blasted the case as overreaching.

Yee, forced to abandon his bid for secretary of state after his arrest last year, faces federal prison if convicted of charges that he accepted bribes in exchange for political favors. The state Senate last year suspended him pending the outcome of his trial. He previously pleaded not guilty.

Most of the racketeering and other charges in the indictment are connected to Chow and his Chee Kung Ton organization. That trial involving dozens of defendants will take place later, and those defendants are not on Breyer’s calendar Wednesday.

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at