Calif. Lawmakers Vote to Suspend Sen. Leland Yee, 2 Other Senators

The California State Senate on Friday voted 28 to 1 to suspend embattled  Sen. Leland Yee, who was arrested by the FBI this week on firearms and public corruption charges.

The Senate also suspended Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello and Sen. Rod Wright of Inglewood - both Southern California Democrats  - who were either charged or convicted of bribery or election fraud earlier this year.

All the senators will be paid their annual base pay of  $90,526 (PDF) a year during their suspensions.

San Diego Republican Joel Anderson was the lone "no" vote. He thought the suspensions didn't go far enough.

"This amounts to nothing more than a paid holiday," Anderson said before the vote. "When you violate the public's trust, you should be expelled."

Yee's arrest came after a four-year FBI investigation and his political future is unclear at best.

Calif. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who served with Yee on the Board of Supervisors before Newsom became the mayor of San Francisco, said that it was appropriate for the senator to resign.

"It's clear that the Senate is unanimously sending a very powerful message," Newsom said. "It's the right thing to do."

Gov. Jerry Brown also called on Yee to resign after Friday's Senate vote.

"Given the extraordinary circumstances of these cases – and today’s unprecedented suspensions – the best way to restore public confidence is for these Senators to resign.” Brown said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi weighed in on the Yee investigation Friday, saying that she initially thought the allegations were a mistake until she read more about the case.

"It's sad, and it's sad for his family, but people of San Francisco and this area have treated him with great respect," Pelosi said. "I think out of that respect he should step aside."

Though Yee did not voluntarily resign, as senators had hoped, he did announce on Thursday through his attorney that he would withdraw his bid for Secretary of State. Attorney Paul F. DeMeester issued a statement immediately after the Senate vote saying suspension was "the right step for now" because it acknowledges the presumption of innocence.

Yee's suspension came because of a federal complaint unsealed Wednesday accusing the 65-year-old lawmaker of engaging in a conspiracy to traffic firearms without a license, illegally importing firearms and accepting campaign donations in exchange for official acts. In one instance, Yee, who has been a strong advocate for gun control during his decade in the state legislature, allegedly discussed setting an undercover agent up with an international arms dealer, warning that such business dealings are "not for the faint of heart," according to the complaint.

DeMeester said Yee plans to plead not guilty to charges of accepting more than $42,000 to influence legislation and introduce an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker.

NBC Bay Area broke news of Yee's arrest.

Yee, who represents the western half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County, is the third in a string of California senators to face criminal probes in the recent past. In February, Calderon was charged with allegedly accepting about $100,000 in cash bribes and other perks in exchange for his supporting or opposing bills. Calderon has pleaded not guilty.

In January, Wright was found guilty of eight felonies stemming from accusations he did not actually live in the Southern California district he represents. Wright is appealing the conviction.

Both Wright and Calderon have taken a leave of absence from the state Senate.

While Yee has captured the most headlines during the FBI's sweep this week, he was one of 26 defendants named in the federal complaint.  The main leader, or the "Dragonhead" of a known Chinese gang, according to documents, is Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, leader of the Chee Kung Tong Free Masons in San Francisco, who has served time after being being convicted of racketeering, heroin, cocaine, robbery, attempted murder, robbery and arson charges. He was released in 2003. The current federal complaint charges him with money laundering and trafficking in contraband cigarettes.

Another key player targeted during the Yee arrest is San Francisco political consultant Keith Jackson, 49, who was charged with defrauding honest services, gun and drug trafficking, and being part of a "murder for hire" conspiracy."

Both had brief court appearances on Friday in the courtroom of U.S. District Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins. Chow was told to return to court on Monday with Yee, and Jackson was told to return on Tuesday.

Yee has served in the state Legislature for more than a decade, and was elected to the state Senate in November 2006, representing District 8.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he plans to seek a constitutional amendment  that would deny pay to suspended lawmakers. The state Constitution currently says lawmakers can lose their pay only if they are expelled or resign.

The Associated Press and NBC Owned Television's Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.

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