‘Uncle Leland’: Political Ambition and Debt Put California Senator on a Collision Course with FBI in Five-Year Corruption Sting

 CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

For MediumErica Perez, Matt Smith and Lance Williams write:  The sun was shining on a brisk January day when Leland Yee took a seat at an undisclosed San Francisco coffee shop. Across from him sat a Cosa Nostra crime boss.For more than two years, the California state senator had been engaged in a frantic quest for campaign cash. Over a steakhouse dinner the previous spring, he’d begun taking envelopes of cash—a risky move for the normally cautious politician. Now he was looking at a much bigger deal, one that could put his financial obstacles behind him in one stroke.

[See also Inside the Chinatown Gang That Lured Leland Yee into Arms Trafficking]

The mobster, who claimed to hail from New Jersey, wanted millions of dollars worth of smuggled firearms: automatic weapons, “shoulder-fired” missiles. Yee, 65, a career politician whose square, earnest face was a fixture in Chinatown, and who was perennially seen stumping for stricter gun control laws in Sacramento, said he was confident he could help. For a fee, the Democrat indicated he could connect the mobster with a high-end arms dealer with contacts in Russia, the Ukraine, “Muslim countries.”

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“Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money,” Yee said. But the transaction was not for the “faint of heart,” he warned: The last time Yee had dealt with an arms dealer, they were in the Philippines, and Yee was surrounded by bodyguards with machine guns.

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