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Friday, 30 May 2014 00:00

California State Senator Leland Yee Runs Afoul of More than Repairers

Bad news about politicians doing sketchy, illegal things happens so frequently that none of us are shocked anymore, and that’s why body shop owners throughout northern California weren’t surprised when they heard that California State Senator Leland Yee had been arrested for a long list of alleged crimes, with bribery and gun trafficking topping the list.

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Yee was on the collision industry’s radar in California several times over the years, but most especially when he authored California Senate Bill 1460, known as the Automotive Repair: Replacement Parts Bill in 2012.


Last month, A federal grand jury indictment against Yee and 28 other defendants added a conspiracy charge to the seven felony counts the now-suspended lawmaker faces for allegedly promising political favors and gun trafficking to undercover agents in exchange for $62,600 in campaign contributions.

According to a 137-page FBI affidavit, the charges stem from a five-year investigation that initially targeted Chinatown gang leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow and spread to his associates, including Jackson, a former San Francisco, CA, school board president.

The indictment accuses Yee and Jackson of conspiring, between May 2011 and April 2014, to “defraud the citizens of California of their right to the honest services of State Senator Leland Yee through bribery.” Yee is alleged to have promised political favors to agents posing as donors to his 2011 campaign for San Francisco mayor and his now-abandoned campaign for California secretary of state.

Joe Eskenazi, columnist for the SF Weekly, has been covering Yee since the beginning, so his take on recent developments provide useful insight. In his recent column, The Human Jukebox: Leland Yee Spent Decades Singing Other People's Tunes, Eskenazi wrote, “Yee has a well-known reputation as a ‘human jukebox.’ You put the money in and he sings the song you want. Granted, it’d be a shock if you put money in a jukebox and guns and jihads came out. But, if the voluminous criminal complaint against Yee ad 28 others are correct, he’s simply transcended the legal, transactional role of a slick politician into a more lucrative and splendidly illegal version of the same game.”

If the money was right, Yee was more than willing to support your cause and push your agenda, according to Eskenazi. “Yee has authored 213 bills while in office and 54 were sponsored by organizations, including casinos, marijuana growers, and healthcare organizations, for example. In all, Yee reported receiving $188,755 in campaign contributions from backers of so-called sponsors that bear his name.”

Several California Autobody Association (CAA) members who participated in the 2012 CAA Legislative Day in Sacramento, CA, met with Yee to discuss Senate Bill 1460, which would create a new legal presumption that all certified crash parts will be deemed sufficient to return a vehicle to its pre-loss condition. The CAA obviously opposed the bill back then, because it asked more questions than provided answers, according to Jack Molodanof, who represents both the Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA) and CAA as its legal advocate.

“This was the big one for body shops in 2012, because it would have seriously impacted the automotive crash parts industry in a significant way,” Molodanof said. “It eliminated current law and shifted all of the warranty responsibility of aftermarket crash parts to the body shops, third-party vendors and suppliers—and that’s why we opposed it.”

One of the CAA members who met with Yee and his staff on that day to discuss SB1460 was David Mello, the owner of Anderson Behel in Santa Clara, CA. Although Yee seemed open to the dialog, one of his assistants was less than receptive to the CAA members’ suggested changes to the bill, according to Mello. In fact, the CAA members in Yee’s office that day were treated like unwelcome visitors by the senator’s assistants, although Yee himself was quite cordial.

“We definitely received some push-back—more than I’ve ever encountered in 20 years doing this,” Mello said. “But this was an important bill. We obviously opposed it for a wide range of reasons, and the California Department of Insurance (CDI) also opposed it because they said that it obfuscated a rule-making process already underway on this matter at CDI to update and improve existing law and, at its worst, appeared to reverse a long-standing law that has served to protect consumers from defective or inferior aftermarket parts for almost 20 years.”

CAA Board Member Randy Greenblat was also in that meeting and left there shocked over Yee’s limited knowledge about his own bill. “He wasn’t clear on basic things in the bill and we were surprised,” Greenblat said. “We had met with him previously in his San Francisco office and actually showed him how aftermarket crash parts are inferior to OE, but it didn’t seem to seep in at that time. We left there thinking that someone had made a large donation to Yee to get him to author this bill, either the aftermarket parts industry or the insurance companies—or both.”

Several days following the CAA 2012 Legislative Day, Yee’s bill was defeated on the floor of the State when the Department of Insurance (DOI) sent a letter to Senator Noreen Evans, Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, to announce its opposition of the bill. The DOI stance was made clear when Insurance Commissioner David Jones stated, “SB1460, at best, obfuscates a rule-making process already underway on this matter at CDI to update and improve existing law and, at worst, appears to reverse a long-standing law that has served to protect consumers from defective or inferior aftermarket parts for almost 20 years.”

So, how do body shops protect themselves from laws that can hurt their businesses, especially when it’s apparent that some politicians will represent any group if the money’s right? According to Molodanof, this is where organizations like CAA can shine.

“CAA is the industry’s eyes and ears in Sacramento, and that’s why we work to defeat bills like SB1460 that will negatively impact the collision industry in any way,” Molodanof said. “As a body shop owner, you’re not able to stay on top all of the legislation out there that can potentially impact your business—both negatively and positively. Legislators come up with new bills all the time, and if no one is there to watch the door, so to speak, things can pass through.”

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