A federal judge sentenced disgraced former California Sen. Leland Yee to five years in prison Wednesday morning after the career politician asked the judge for leniency and to take his whole life of service into account.
Senior District Court Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco imposed the sentence after the 67-year-old Yee pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering.
"I don't feel I should be lenient," Breyer said during the hearing. "The crimes that you committed have resulted in essentially an attack on democratic institutions. We all deal with the situation that we in our work must be accepted by the public as having done an honest job.''
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Still, the judge sided with the defense, who had asked for five years in prison, rather than with prosecutors, who had sought an eight-year sentence for Yee. The former senator was convicted of soliciting and accepting bribes in exchange for providing help from Sacramento and conspiring to import weapons and ammunition into the United States.
At the hearing, Yee said: "I have taken full responsibility for my actions and crimes that I've committed. Given that, nothing I will ever do will take away the pain I've caused to my family and friends...and society in general." Then he added: "I hope you look at my entire life and not just these crimes that I have committed. In 67 years of my life, I have devoted much of it to the work of a community and people here in San Francisco and the state of California."
Before the hearing, Yee's attorney, James Lassart, had asked for leniency in court papers because of Yee's "exemplary" behavior, and his "ailing" wife.
Yee has remained free while awaiting sentencing.
Yee was arrested in 2014 as part of an organized crime probe centered in San Francisco's Chinatown that ensnared Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, the head of the Chinese fraternal organization the Ghee Kung Tong, and others. A jury convicted Chow last month of racketeering, murder and scores of other crimes.
Federal agents say one of Chow's associates was Keith Jackson, a former San Francisco school board president and well-known political consultant who raised money for Yee's unsuccessful mayoral run in 2011 and his bid for secretary of state.
Prosecutor Susan Badger said during the sentencing hearing that Yee was looking for money to win the race for secretary of state as he was being forced from the state Senate by term limits.
"Senator Yee abused that trust and faith in the worst possible way. it wasn't actually for personal financial wealth," she said. "It was to retain power as a public official."
Jackson led authorities to Yee and pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge. He received a nine-year prison sentence Wednesday.
NBC Bay Area was the first to report on the March 26 FBI raid and public corruption arrest.
As part of his plea agreement, Yee acknowledged accepting $11,000 in exchange for setting up a meeting with another state senator, $10,000 for recommending someone for a grant, and $6,800 for providing a certificate on California State Senate letterhead honoring the Ghee Kung Tong.
He also acknowledged that he discussed helping an undercover FBI agent buy automatic weapons from the Philippines that were intended to be brought to the U.S. for distribution.
Prosecutors say Chow and some other members of the fraternal group engaged in drug trafficking, money laundering and the sale of stolen cigarettes and top-shelf liquors.
The case against Chow was largely the work of an undercover FBI agent who posed for years as a foul-mouthed East Coast businessman with mafia ties.
Sudhin Thanawala from the Associated Press contributed to this report.