© Jeff Chiu, Associated Press FILE - In this April 10, 2014 file photo, Tony Serra, right, speaks next to Curtis Briggs, both attorneys for Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, pictured at left, during a news conference in San…© Michael Short, The Chronicle Attorney J. Tony Serra, who is representing Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, along with attorney Curtis Briggs, left, speaks during a press conference held at the Pier 5 law offices in…
Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a Chinatown gangster who at one time won plaudits from some of the most powerful and respected people in San Francisco for doing good works, was found guilty Friday of running a century-old community organization as a racketeering enterprise and ordering the murder of its former leader so he could take over and of another rival.
The case arose from a five-year undercover investigation of the Ghee Kung Tong, a Chinatown brotherhood that prosecutors believed had become a front for crime and corruption. He was indicted in 2014 along with 28 other defendants including then-state Sen. Leland Yee and Keith Jackson, a former San Francisco school board president with ties to the Ghee Kung Tong.
Yee and Jackson pleaded guilty in July to racketeering and admitted that the legislator, with Jackson’s help, had accepted bribes from federal agents posing as campaign contributors in exchange for legislative favors. Their sentencing is scheduled Feb. 10.
After their guilty pleas, the spotlight shifted to Chow, the first defendant to go on trial.
Chow, 56, became the tong’s leader in 2006 after its former leader, Allen Leung, was shot to death by a still-unidentified gunman at Leung’s import-export business in Chinatown.
Chow, a self-described gangster for much of his life, was imprisoned for racketeering in 1993 and won early release a decade later for testifying against a gang leader. He told jurors his trial last month that he had reflected on his past during his time in prison and promised himself, while meditating on a beach after his release, to live a crime-free life.
He began counseling troubled youths in minority communities and later won praise from the likes of Mayor Ed Lee and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But prosecutors said Chow all the while was secretly plotting to take over the Ghee Kung Tong and bringing in longtime followers to run a criminal organization.
In all, Chow faced 162 criminal counts. He was initially charged with racketeering. The murder charges were added in October after prosecutors secured guilty pleas from two co-defendants who agreed to testify in exchange for possible reductions in their sentences. One man, Kongphat Chanthavong, said he heard Chow order Leong‘s murder during a feud between the two men over a loan Chow wanted from the organization.
Chow was also implicated by the alleged driver of the getaway car. In addition, jurors heard a secretly recorded conversation in which Chow supposedly told the undercover agent in 2013 that he had once advised Leung that anyone who messed around with Chow, or his investments, would be “gone.”© Ming Pao Daily Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, in a white suit, attends the funderal of slain Chinatown leader Allen Leung. Mourners are holding up newspapers to block photographers.
Chow, who listened to the same recording, disputed the prosecution’s transcript and said he hadn’t referred to Leung. Defense lawyers questioned the truthfulness of the prosecution witnesses, telling the jury they were convicted criminals and liars who had been allowed to meet in jail and work on their stories.
The other homicide charge involved Jim Tat Kong, a onetime rival in an affiliated organization, the Hop Sing Tong, who was shot to death in Mendocino County in 2013. Andy Li, one of the co-defendants who pleaded guilty, testified that Chow had ordered him to kill Li in 2011, then later told him that the matter had been “handled.” Jurors also heard a recording in which Chow told an agent he had withdrawn protection from Kong.
The bulk of the charges against Chow involved crimes that his subordinates allegedly agreed to commit with “Dave Jordan,” the name used by the agent who posed as a mob-connected East Coast businessman. Jordan testified about transactions with members of the tong over a three-year period for sales of supposedly stolen liquor and cigarettes, and some drug deals, with more than $2 million of the proceeds laundered to evade government detection.© Michael Short, The Chronicle Attorney J. Tony Serra, who is representing Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, sits next to a photo of Chow during a press conference held at the Pier 5 law offices in San Francisco, CA…
The agent said Chow introduced him to his followers and approved their transactions. Jurors heard numerous recordings in which the agent thanked Chow for “making it possible” and pressed envelopes of cash on him, which Jordan said totaled more than $60,000. Chow usually protested, saying he hadn’t done anything for the money and didn’t want to know about the details — but, the agent said, he never refused payment.© Jeff Chiu, Associated Press FILE - In this April 10, 2014 file photo, Tony Serra, right, an attorney for Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, pictured at left, listens to speakers at a news conference in San Francisco…
In three days of testimony, including a lengthy and sarcastic cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen, Chow denied ever knowingly taking payoffs for crimes. He said he had introduced the agent to more than 50 tong members, for no illicit purposes, deliberately steered clear of learning about their interactions, and was repeatedly assured by Jordan that the payments were gestures of “love and respect.”