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FBI searches legislative office of arrested state senator

Suspended California State Senator Leland Yee departs the U.S. courthouse following a hearing in San Francisco, California March 31, 2014. R
Suspended California State Senator Leland Yee departs the U.S. courthouse following a hearing in San Francisco, California March 31, 2014. R

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - FBI agents searched a legislative office in California's capital on Tuesday that was used by staff of state Senator Leland Yee, who faces charges of corruption and gun trafficking, a senate official said.

Yee, a San Francisco Democrat who was the senate's first Chinese-American member, is the third state senator to face criminal charges this year, the latest in a spate of legal problems that has cost Democrats a precious two-thirds majority in the legislature.

The office that was searched is located across the street from the state capitol building and was used by Yee's San Francisco district staff when they were working in Sacramento,

a spokesman for senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg said.

The search was the second in the California capital in a week to target Yee. It was carried out by the FBI at the request of senate leaders, Steinberg spokesman Rhys Williams said.

"The senate wanted to make sure no stone was unturned," Williams said.

FBI spokeswoman Gina Swankie confirmed that the agency executed a search warrant in the building, but did not provide further details.

Yee, who was arrested along with a campaign consultant and more than two dozen others in a broad sweep of suspected organized crime and corruption in San Francisco, plans to plead not guilty to corruption and firearms charges against him at a hearing in federal court currently set for April 8, his attorney said.

A grand jury indictment that could include additional or modified charges against Yee, who was charged criminally with two felony counts of conspiracy to traffic in firearms and six corruption counts in federal court last week, is expected as soon as Thursday, attorney Paul DeMeester said.

A criminal complaint posted online by the U.S. Attorney office for the Northern District of California alleges that Yee did favors for an undercover FBI agent in exchange for campaign contributions.

The complaint also alleges that Yee also offered to facilitate a meeting between the undercover agent and an arms dealer, and discussed the types of weapons that the undercover agent might need.

Yee's arrest dealt a body blow to California Democrats, whose two-thirds majority in the state Senate was eroded when Senator Ron Calderon, indicted on corruption charges, and State Senator Rod Wright, found guilty of voter fraud, took paid leaves of absence earlier this year.

The two-thirds power, called a super-majority in political parlance, gave the party the ability to enact some laws, including changes to the tax code, without seeking any support from Republicans.

Democrats still control large majorities in both houses of the state legislature and all statewide offices, but having a third senator under a cloud could seriously undermine the party's ability to push key projects in an election year.

All three of the senators were suspended with pay last week.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Andrew Hay)

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