Big news out of California’s capital, Sacramento, this week: Another State Senator has been indicted on federal corruption charges. This time it’s Leland Yee, who represents San Francisco. For years, the man has built an image of spit ‘n polish, erudition and high-mindedness, and he is well regarded by his constituents. But if the indictment is true, then to borrow from Monty Python, “He’s not the Messiah; he’s a very naughty boy!” If only he’d been indicted before he voted “yes” in committee last year on slipshod, poorly written bills that threaten the Due Process rights of California physicians. I was at the committee hearing when Yee and his colleagues let sail through some really bad legislation about prescription drugs and the state’s doctors. It occurs to me now that back then, Yee was the only person in the room who knew he was up to something very bad, and not even he knew that the FBI was already on to him.
According to the indictment, Senator Yee had a very lucrative and very illegal “side-business” going for awhile. Yee is on tape with a codefendant and an FBI informant who the Senator thought was an international arms dealer. The elected official who made a name for himself legislating against assault weapons offers the “arms dealer” access to military-grade firearms and other weaponry. Yee was going to have his contacts in Asia sell the arms to the dealer, who would then resell them to fighters in global hotspots and war zones. In exchange, Yee would get big cash infusions to his campaign coffers in his bid for the statewide office he has been seeking. (Chances are his court dates may conflict with his campaign schedule now.) A codefendant, indicted along with Yee, is a heavy duty Chinatown gangster by the street name of “Shrimp Boy,” who’s already done time for arms trafficking.
I’ve defended a lot of gang members in my career, and my clients have had names like “Ruthless,” “Ice Bream” (he was a Blood, and Bloods prefer to avoid using a hard “C” in everyday speech, as “C” stands for “Crip”), and even a girl named “Giggles,” whose crimes and demeanor were, let me tell you, no laughing matter. But “Shrimp Boy” is a new one. Maybe he really likes shrimp?
So, back to 2013. I testified before Senator Yee and his colleagues in Sacramento, at a hearing of the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee. The bills before the committee that day were all about physicians, prescription pills, drug monitoring, and coroner notification to the Medical Board. Yee, who didn’t speak, voted without comment on bills that were poorly drafted and which, if enacted, would:
– run roughshod over doctors’ federal and state Due Process rights;
– require coroners to report prescription drug-related patient deaths to the Medical Board without defining what it meant for prescription drugs to be a “cause” or “contributing factor”; and,
– order doctors to use California’s prescription monitoring database, known as CURES, even though the Attorney General’s Office said the same day that if every doctor in the state used CURES, the antiquated, underfunded, technologically obsolete system would immediately crash.
Give those bills a big “yes!” voted the senator. Bad votes. Ill considered votes. Poorly thought out votes, and I always wondered why he did it. Why, after all, would a guy whose official website leads with the banner, “State Senator Leland Yee, Ph.D” not stop to think through the legal, practical and policy ramifications of what he was voting on? At first I figured he was just following the unspoken but clear direction of his Majority Leader, who was sponsoring one of the bills. But now I realize that Yee was probably just distracted — his calendar for that evening likely included a meet with Shrimp Boy and the “arms dealer” who was in reality an FBI snitch recording every word. Asking questions in committee would only have delayed a very important and financially promising engagement. Of all the political fundraisers that took place that night in that town, I sure hope Yee’s was the dirtiest. I’d hate to learn that anything worse slipped by unnoticed.