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California state senator Yee charged with racketeering in San Francisco Chinatown crime probe

SAN FRANCISCO - A federal grand jury on Friday charged a California state senator with more felonies in addition to the eight counts he already faced in a sweeping organized crime and public corruption case centred in San Francisco's Chinatown.

A new indictment unsealed in San Francisco federal court charged Sen. Leland Yee with racketeering and conspiracy "to obtain property under the colour of official right." Those charges are in addition to the previous bribery, conspiracy and related charges.

Yee pleaded not guilty to the original eight charges. He will have to enter a plea Wednesday to the charges in the new indictment.

The new accusations allege that San Francisco Democrat offered to help pass legislation making it harder for professional football players to obtain workers compensation in California, in exchange for campaign contributions from an unidentified NFL owner.

The new indictment also accuses Yee of taking bribes in exchange for votes in favour of several bills, including one on medical marijuana and another to extend the life of the California State Athletic Commission.

Also charged with racketeering was Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow. The grand jury called a Chinese-American association that Chow headed, the Ghee Kung Tong, a racketeering enterprise.

Chow previously pleaded not guilty to money laundering and other charges.

Yee also is accused of accepting bribes and attempting to connect an undercover FBI agent with an arms dealer in exchange for cash. He has pleaded not guilty.

A call to Yee's attorney for comment on the additional charge was not immediately returned. An attorney for Chow, Curtis Briggs, said he was "completely underwhelmed" by the superseding indictment, which he said lacked new investigative findings or new accusations.

"It doesn't hold water, evidenced by the fact that they could have brought the racketeering charge in the first indictment," Briggs said. "We believe that he's innocent, we're still very optimistic about his case, and we look forward to the trial."

Yee was arrested along with 19 others in March during co-ordinated raids throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

The arrests were the culmination of an FBI investigation started in 2006 after Chow left prison and was elected "dragonhead" of the Ghee Kung Tong. The FBI says undercover agents laundered $2.6 million in cash purportedly garnered through illegal bookmaking through the organization.

The Canadian Press

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