SAN FRANCISCO — A lawyer for a California state senator charged last week with accepting bribes and gun trafficking on Monday challenged the three-year FBI investigation that led to the arrest.
Sen. Leland Yee’s attorney Paul DeMeester asked why it took until Wednesday for the FBI to file charges when it appeared the investigation of his client began in 2011.
“It raises fairness questions,” DeMeester said after he and Yee made a brief federal court appearance in San Francisco. “Is it fair to the public, is it fair to the senator that it took so long?”
DeMeester in particular challenged why the FBI appeared to shift the focus of its probe from a cash-for-influence case to an investigation of alleged connections to international arms dealers.
“There’s a question of whether the government felt it didn’t have enough evidence on the campaign investigation, so it starts pushing on the arms trafficking,” DeMeester said.
The U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and email message seeking reaction to DeMeester’s claims.
Yee hasn’t entered a plea yet to one count of conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, and to six counts of engaging in a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.
He is accused of accepting bribes from undercover operatives needing political help in Sacramento and of agreeing to connect an undercover FBI agent posing as an underworld figure with an international arms dealer. DeMeester previously said the senator plans to plead not guilty.
Yee appeared briefly in court to discuss details of his release before trial. His next court date is April 8. He has been suspended from the Legislature.
Wearing a brown pinstriped suit, Yee shot a brief smile at reporters assembled in the gallery before approaching the bench with DeMeester.
Yee is currently free on a $500,000 unsecured bond. Prosecutors want property the senator owns to be used as collateral to guarantee he appears at all court hearings.
Federal prosecutors said they were close to accepting some property the senator owns but were still in negotiations with Yee and his lawyers.
Moments before Yee’s appearance, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, who authorities say is a Chinatown crime syndicate boss, was brought into court wearing ankle restraints and dressed in a mustard-yellow jail jumpsuit.
Chow was also arrested last week as part of the elaborate FBI sting operation targeting organized crime in the Chinatown area of San Francisco. A total of 26 people have been charged in the case.
Federal public defender Elizabeth Falk told the judge her office had a conflict from previous cases and she was still searching for a lawyer to represent Chow at government cost.
Chow was ordered to return to court on Wednesday. He was denied bail last week after a judge deemed him a flight risk.
Chow is accused of money laundering and other activities as the head of a notorious Chinatown-based gang. He has not entered a plea.