Suspended state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, has chosen a new lawyer to defend him against federal public corruption and gun trafficking charges.
Yee’s former attorney, Paul DeMeester, confirmed Wednesday morning that Yee has replaced him with defense attorney James Lassart.
Lassart worked for 12 years as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco and then for five years as a federal prosecutor pursuing organized crime cases before entering private practice.
Yee’s next court appearance is an April 8 arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero in San Francisco on an expected federal grand jury indictment, which would replace a criminal complaint filed by prosecutors against Yee and 25 other defendants last week.
Most of the other defendants will also be arraigned at that hearing.
DeMeester represented Yee when he was arrested on March 26 and freed on a $500,000 bond. The next day, he announced on the senator’s behalf that Yee was withdrawing his candidacy to be secretary of state.
DeMeester said Wednesday that the change in lawyers was “the client’s choice.”
“There was no conflict, no disagreement,” DeMeester said. “I was happy to help and get Sen. Yee out of custody. I’ve been a longtime friend of Leland Yee and I wish him well.
“He will be in good hands,” DeMeester said.
Lassart was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Yee faces six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of his honest services by allegedly soliciting and accepting campaign contributions in exchange for using his position to aid the purported donors, who were in fact undercover FBI agents.
He is also accused of a seventh charge of trafficking in firearms without a license in connection with an alleged plan to arrange for an undercover agent posing as a Mafia member to buy $2 million worth of weapons from an arms dealer in the Philippines.
Another defendant, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, was assigned a defense lawyer by Spero. Chow’s attorney will be Martha Boersch, who is also a former federal prosecutor.
Chow, who is the leader of the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong organization and was previously convicted of racketeering, is charged with money laundering, conspiring to receive stolen property, and trafficking in contraband cigarettes.
He is currently in custody and is scheduled to have a detention hearing at the April 8 hearing before Spero.