Taking cash from a mob-connected pot dealer in exchange for favors is crooked. Taking cash from an undercover FBI agent posing as the mob in exchange for favors -- and then not following through with those favors -- is something else entirely.
Something only Sen. Leland Yee would do.
That appears to be what the disgraced lawmaker and allegedly corrupt official did on medical marijuana, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court this week.
Compared to the other accusations leveled against him -- arranging weapons deals with international arms dealers and taking campaign contributions in exchange for political favors -- the allegations that Yee took cash to influence California cannabis policy seems like child's play. There's also this fact: Yee did absolutely nothing to help weed in the last year.
In fact, Yee's been invisible on the issue in recent years, with other lawmakers, some of whom are mentioned anonymously in the federal criminal complaint, taking the lead. For once, being a do-nothing in Sacramento may be a help to someone.
Yee faces six counts of public corruption, which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine -- each. These charges may also be the hardest to prove, legal experts say.
Politicians take campaign contributions in exchange for influencing policy all the time -- with the Supreme Court's permission, the LA Times noted. And from Mayor Ed Lee on down to the town dogcatcher, it's easy to prove a nexus between campaign contributors and subsequent policy (Ron Conway and Twitter, anyone?).
What makes a corruption charge, then? The public official must "know" that the cash is specifically for a future official act, legal experts say.
Yee and political consultant Keith Jackson are accused of taking about $50,000 from a federal agent, posing as a medical marijuana "businessman" from Arizona who wanted to be the Budweiser of weed -- an old line trotted out by many a would-be weed magnate.
He met with the individual on several occasions, including at a Starbucks, in Sacramento with an unnamed lawmaker, in a hotel room, and at Alexander's steakhouse.
Every time, Yee was asked to influence state cannabis law in exchange for money (and was once offered stock in a marijuana company; another time, he was told Jackson's son should open up a dispensary and be "bought out").
And almost every time, Yee informed the undercover federal agents that pay-to-play was something he could not do (and at one point, said aloud that he didn't want to get indicted, according to the complaint) and could take campaign contributions only.
And in exchange for that money -- envelopes with $10,000 and $5,000 in cash -- Yee was asked to introduce weed-friendly legislation or otherwise make it easy for cash to rule cannabis.
The undercover agent, among other requests, asked Yee to write a law that would allow dispensaries to have doctors on-site, writing pot recommendations (something that Yee's fellow San Francisco legislator, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, tried to specifically ban).
That he did not do. Nor did he do anything else, aside from arrange a meeting. Yee's name is not on the list of any weed-related bills introduced last year. He did not make weed a key public issue last year, and has not said much about cannabis over the last few years.
And sifting through the complaint, Yee didn't make a specific weed-related promise. He did, however, say he could help if he was elected Secretary of State. And, of course, he did appear to arrange the meetings with other lawmakers.
It'll be interesting to find out who the unnamed state legislators are. Yee was in Sacramento for over a decade and knew everybody. At least one Republican leader, however, thinks that the unnamed senator is him. Sen. Robert Huff of Diamond Bar told the LA Times that he thinks he met with the agent, a "long-haired" scruffy-looking fellow (deep cover indeed).
Needless to say, Yee's political career is coming to an abrupt end.