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03.27.14

The Big Dreams of Corrupt Politicians

The arrests of Leland Yee and Patrick Cannon shows that some politicians still have real ambition when it comes to public corruption.

Who said politicians lack ambition these days?

The twin arrests of California state senator Leland Yee and Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon on Wednesday show that while politicians may have given up on New Deals or taking down Evil Empires, there are still some who dream big. 

Cannon was elected mayor of Charlotte in November, which incidentally happened to be almost a year into the FBI’s investigation of him. A former city councilman, it is alleged that the North Carolina Democrat took cash and gifts in exchange for helping with real estate developers secure prime properties along the city’s expanding light rail system. The criminal complaint against him alleges that Cannon went so far as to take $20,000 in a leather suitcase in the mayor’s office. The North Carolina pol told undercover agents that he needed the money to help develop a feminine hygiene product called "Hers." Once the indictment dropped, Cannon quickly resigned his office. If convicted, he could face up to 50 years in prison. 

But while it may take chutzpah for a mayor of major American city to take cash to manipulate development along new mass transit lines, it's nothing compared to actions allegedly taken by Leland Yee, a fixture in San Francisco Democratic politics for decades.

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California State senator and candidate for San Francisco mayor Leland Yee (2nd R) and his wife Maxine Yee (L) talk with a supporter as they wait in line to cast their ballots at a polling station inside San Francisco City Hall on November 7, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Yee, a California state senator and 2014 statewide candidate for Secretary of State, was accused Wednesday of being involved in an elaborate gun running plot with a gangster named Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. The scheme involved Yee helping to smuggle automatic weapons and shoulder fired missiles from Muslim separatists in the Philippines into the United States in exchange for campaign donations. Ironically, Yee has been a longtime advocate for both gun control and good government.

The idea of elected officials taking money in leather briefcases or running guns seems absurd, but one has to least credit them for boldness of their criminal schemes. After all, it can be hard to get most politicians to veer off their talking points, let alone wander into an elaborate criminal conspiracy involving the Chinese Triads and Muslim separatists. Plus, while many try to conceal ther actions and make investigators do long, hard, tedious work by tracing campaign donations and poring through tax records, it’s far more straightforward when you just take a bag of cash or deal with a guy named “Shrimp Boy.”

 So, it’s worth giving Yee and Cannon some credit. They may not have put a man on the moon but they’ve sure done a great job of putting themselves en route to federal prison.