The trial judge presiding over the criminal case of suspended state Sen. Leland Yee and 28 other defendants said at the first full-scale hearing on the case in federal court in San Francisco today that he expects it to be broken into several smaller trials.
“Whatever takes place will be smaller and more discrete,” U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer told a crowd of 21 lawyers and 21 of the 29 defendants gathered in the front of his Federal Building courtroom.
Breyer, referring to a future trial or trials, made the comment after James Brosnahan, a lawyer for former San Francisco school board president Keith Jackson, suggested the case should be divided into at least three different trials because many of the charges are unrelated.
Brosnahan noted that prosecutors agreed in a filing Thursday that there should be several trials.
“If that’s the case, what are we doing with this indictment?” Brosnahan asked.
Various of the defendants, who also include Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, previously convicted of racketeering, are accused of a wide array of charges, including public corruption, arms trafficking, drug conspiracy, conspiracy to sell stolen cigarettes and a never-completed murder for hire plot. But none are accused of all of the counts.
Also at today’s hearing, prosecutors reiterated their statement in Thursday’s filing that they expect a revised grand jury indictment, known as a superseding indictment, within the next three months.
The prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office said in the filing that they expect additional charges, possibly including racketeering charges, and possibly additional defendants. They did not say which of the defendants might be charged with racketeering.
Breyer did not set a trial date or decide to how to divide the case, but scheduled a July 24 hearing for a status conference on the case. If there has been a superseding indictment, the defendants will be arraigned before a magistrate on the same date.
The judge also set a hearing for Thursday for finalization of a protective order that will provide procedures for releasing of prosecution evidence to defense lawyers and protecting the confidentiality of some of it.
Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, is accused of six counts of defrauding citizens of his honest services by allegedly soliciting and taking campaign contributions in exchange for political favors for donors and one count of conspiring with Jackson to do so. The purported donors were undercover FBI agents.
The senator is also accused of conspiring with Jackson and Daly City dentist Wilson Lim to engage in gun trafficking without a license in connection with an alleged plan to have an undercover agent posing as a Mafia member buy $2 million in weapons from an arms dealer in the Philippines.
Jackson, a political consultant who was president of the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education in 1997, has been released on a $250,000 bond.
He is accused of selling guns and ballistic vests to an undercover FBI agent, conspiring to distribute drugs and participating in an alleged murder-for-hire plot in addition to taking part in the alleged campaign contribution fraud and international arms trafficking conspiracy.
Chow, who is being held without bail, is the leader of the Chee Kung Tong, a Chinatown-based civic group that is alleged by prosecutors to have a criminal faction. He is accused of money laundering, conspiring to receive stolen property, and conspiring to traffic in contraband cigarettes.
One of his lawyers, Curtis Briggs, said after today’s hearing, “There is no logical connection between many of the parties in this indictment.”
The charges were combined in one document “to make the indictment seem stronger,” Briggs alleged.
In a news conference Thursday, Briggs said that Chow had committed no new crimes since his release from prison a decade ago and accused the FBI of fabricating the charges against his client.
He said that the Chee Kung Tong is not a criminal organization and was instead a group of citizens that had banded together to do “beautiful things.”
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