SAN FRANCISCO––The March 26, 2014 arrest of California state senator Leland Yee for alleged firearms trafficking and corruption sent shockwaves rippling through the animal advocacy community, as well as through the California Democratic Party and San Francisco’s Chinatown, Yee’s base of political support.
Yee, who politically postured as a gun control advocate, was charged with buying automatic firearms and shoulder-launched missiles from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the southern Philippines and trying to re-sell the weapons to an FBI undercover agent. Yee was also charged with accepting a bribe of $10,000 from an undercover agent to try to influence a contract offered by the California Department of Public Health.
“This quite a shock to everyone,” Action for Animals founder Eric Mills told ANIMALS 24-7. “I’ve known Dr. Yee since his days on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors,” from 1999 to 2002. “He was the very first one to agree to meet with me to discuss the live animal food markets,” Mills recalled. “I immediately pointed out the irony, his being the only Asian on the board. We hit it off––I liked the guy. And he seemed supportive of what we were trying to do. That quickly changed,” as the Chinatown Merchants Association rose in defense of the live markets. “He even gave me his home phone number, in case I ever needed any help.
“Yee was always a good environmental vote,” Mills recalled, “and good on children’s issues, with a Ph.D in child psychology, he was quick to tell me. And good on most animal issues––but not the live markets, or the shark fin issue. And now this news. Hard to believe, surreal even. These are really serious charges. Hope he’s clean, but it surely isn’t looking good.”
Yee won favor with animal advocates in 2006 as author of a law requiring California state agencies to include household pets, livestock, horses, and service animals in disaster preparation plans.
Yee also authored a law passed in 2008 that allows Californians to form “pet trusts” to provide posthumous care for their animals.
But Yee in 2010 blocked the California Fish & Game Commission from enforcing a ban on the import of turtles and frogs from other states. Meant to prevent the introduction of nonnative species, the ban would also have cut into the supply of turtles and frogs available to the Chinatown live markets.
In 2011 Yee led the opposition to a bill by fellow Asian American legislator Paul Fong that prohibited the sale of shark fins in California. Calling the bill an “effort to take away our heritage and culture,” Yee brought San Francisco seafood processor Michael Kwong to the state capitol to testify that sharks are not targeted by fishers for their fins. Kwong’s firm, Kwong Yip Inc., claims to have sold shark fins since 1905.
Kwong, 42, was on January 29, 2014 cited for alleged illegal possession of more than a ton of shark fin discovered on the Kwong Yip premises by investigators from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Reported Erin Ivie of the San Jose Mercury News, “Officials found their way to Kwong after catching the Emeryville restaurant Hong Kong East Ocean Seafood selling shark fin soup on January 27,” according to CDFW Lieutenant Patrick Foy. “Despite the massive quantity of shark fins found in Kwong’s warehouse,” Ivie continued, “Kwong was released and no arrests were made.”
Said Foy, “A lot of people are wondering why we didn’t take him to jail. But it’s still a misdemeanor level offense. He just had an extremely large quantity, like nothing we had ever seen before.”
Yee has had previous brushes with the law. According to a 2011 article by Mailia Zimmerman of the Hawaii Reporter, Yee was in 1992 arrested for allegedly shoplifting a bottle of tanning oil in Kona, Hawaii, but apparently left Hawaii before he could be prosecuted. The charge was dropped. In 1999 Yee acknowledged to media that he had been stopped and questioned twice by police officers who suspected he was trying to pick up prostitutes in the Mission District of San Francisco. Yee was not charged in either incident.