« Was UFC the target of a shakedown by alleged Chinatown mob-linked pol over California State Athletic Commission? | Home | An audio guide to the week that was the Federal indictment alleging extortion of California State Athletic Commission »
Indicted senator Leland Yee was gifted tickets by UFC during time of alleged extortion of California State Athletic Commission
By Zach Arnold | August 2, 2014
You may not be hearing much from other combat sports writers about the Federal indictment of California state senator Leland Yee and his supposed Chinatown mobster friend Shrimp Boy. But the updated Federal indictment from last week can be read by anyone. It’s a lengthy document, but you don’t have to be a lawyer to understand the charges being levied.
Any time you have a boxing manager being accused by the Feds of murder for hire, it’s worth a read.
When the Feds alleged that Leland Yee and his fundraising consultant Keith Jackson were allegedly extorting individuals wanting to keep the California State Athletic Commission from being sunsetted, the obvious first question everyone asked: who was targeted supposedly for extortion? The indictment lists Individuals A & B, although there could be more individuals. Nobody knows at this point in time. What made the indictment chilling was the fact that the timeline supposedly started from March of 2013 until the end of that calendar year. Andy Foster became the Executive Officer in November of 2012 and CSAC was allegedly a target for extortion a few months later.
From the indictment:
“Extorting individuals related to the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) and the Mixed Martial Arts industry regarding retaining the existence of the CSAC and its ability to regulate certain sports in California.”
Who from the MMA industry? We don’t know. But this line from the indictment struck us as odd:
The CSAC exercised licensing, regulatory, and disciplinary functions in connection with the operation of certain sports in California, including boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, and Ultimate Fight Championship events. Without the extension provided for in SB309, the CSAC would become inoperative on January 1, 2014.
This led us to ask whether or not the UFC was the victim of a shakedown campaign. In my opinion, trying to extort the UFC is a foolish move. Especially if you are someone running for a state, not federal office. Excluding their efforts in New York, the UFC has a slick lobbying operation that has proven to be highly successful in states like California & Florida. They spread the wealth around legally with political contributions.
Lobbying data from Platinum Advisors LLC filings on CA Sec. of State web site
The indictment claims that Leland Yee, through consultant Keith Jackson, was allegedly asking Individuals A & B give money to Jackson in March of 2013 for his lobbying services and that there supposedly would be a scheme to rope in other promoters to contribute cash to Yee’s Secretary of State campaign. Theoretically, it’s much harder to publicly track money given to a consultant as opposed to making a political donation directly to a campaign.
Nonetheless, it’s important for reporters covering this indictment to follow the money even if the data is limited.
In September of 2013, Zuffa made a $1,500 contribution to state senator Ted Lieu. Lieu was the author of SB309, the bill to extend the life of the Athletic Commission for a couple more years. The bill was passed in the same month. Approximately nine months after the alleged extortion campaign by Leland Yee started over CSAC, Yee’s campaign received a $1,500 contribution from Station Casinos in December of 2013. The next day, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla received a $1,500 contribution from Station Casinos. Her AB1186 bill on kid’s pankration was tied to SB309 for passage. UFC backed AB1186 through their Sacramento lobbyist, Tim Lynch at Platinum Advisors LLC.
The only fight promoter, to our knowledge, that was aggressively lobbying Sacramento politicians for the passage of SB309, the bill to keep CSAC alive, was the UFC through Platinum Advisors. Does that mean that someone from UFC is Individual B? No, it does not. However, there were clearly parties interested in keeping the Athletic Commission alive so that Andy Foster could get his feet planted in the ground and do his job as the Executive Officer. And the indictment claims that Yee & Jackson took advantage of the situation.
Given the timeline of contribution & lobbying data from Zuffa/Platinum in 2013 from the Secretary of State’s web site, there are several unanswered questions in relation to the allegations made in the Federal indictment:
- Are other politicians going to be accused of targeting the Athletic Commission?
- Whose money was used to allegedly pay Leland Yee’s consultant, Keith Jackson? Were state funds used? Were promoter funds used? How much money was at stake?
- Were fight promoters approached and if so, which ones were solicited?
- What was the end game for Leland Yee if he had not being arrested and was voted in as Secretary of State?
As we further investigate this Indictment over the coming weeks, hopefully some answers will surface. These are important questions to focus on. It’s one thing to supposedly extort an athletic commission, as crazy as it sounds. However, if fight promoters were also targets of extortion, that ramps up the serious nature of this Federal indictment.
Which brings us to a new piece of financial data we discovered. Approximately three weeks before Leland Yee was first indicted in late March of 2014 by the Feds, the Bay Area News Group published a list of gifts and travel benefits that members of the Northern California state Congressional caucus received in 2013. It’s not a surprise that the UFC has given tickets in the past to various politicians. Nothing new there.
However, the UFC had some unfortunate luck in giving tickets to a couple of politicians. As noted by the LA Times, they gave tickets to disgraced state senator Ron Calderon for their Anaheim Pond event headlined by Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche. The FBI accused Calderon of directing undercover agents to make payments to his brother’s nonprofit group that would supposedly turn around and paying that brother’s consulting firm. That was in February of 2013.
The Bay Area News Group claims that in April of 2013, Leland Yee was given tickets by the UFC for their April 20th, 2013 Fox event at San Jose Arena headlined by Ben Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez.
We visited Cal Access, the Secretary of State’s web site, to look at the public filings from both Zuffa LLC & Platinum Advisors LLC regarding their quarterly lobbying efforts.
Take note of when Yee was given the tickets as a gift by the UFC. April of 2013. According to the timeline in the Federal indictment, that would be less than two months into the alleged extortion campaign against individuals A & B to get paid in exchange for voting yes for SB309 to keep the Athletic Commission alive. A vote on SB309 took place over six months after the alleged extortion campaign began, according to the Feds.
The other politician given tickets for that event, Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta, had a curious but tenuously connected ally to the Athletic Commission. Dean Grafilo, who became Bonta’s chief of staff in the Assembly, was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the Athletic Commission in 2012 when George Dodd was getting pushed out by Consumer Affairs. After Dodd was fired and Andy Foster was hired by DCA to become the new Executive Officer, Grafilo left the CSAC board and moved to the Assembly to join Bonta.
Given this information, there is a very important question to ask and explore in the future:
Who benefited the most from the California State Athletic Commission being kept afloat? And why?