SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A jury is now weighing the fate of former Chinatown crime boss Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, after witnesses told tales of the “dragonhead” bumping off gang rivals while running his crime syndicate.
Closing arguments concluded Tuesday afternoon, with an impassioned plea from Chow’s attorney J. Tony Serra for reasonable doubt.
Serra said the government had failed to prove its case, which he characterized as “filled with the frustration and desperation of the government because my client didn’t participate in any crime. He’s telling us the truth. That’s reasonable doubt per se.”
Chow is accused of running the Ghee Kung Tong, the Chinese fraternal organization of which he is dragonhead, as a criminal enterprise that trafficked in drugs, guns and stolen property.
He also is charged with ordering a fatal hit on Allen Leung, his GKT dragonhead predecessor, in 2006. Prosecutors have also charged Chow with conspiring to murder Jim Tat Kong, a rival in the Hop Sing Tong, a gang with GKT ties to which Chow also belonged.
The jury will weigh 162 counts of racketeering, money laundering, murder in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering. Chow faces life in prison if convicted.
U.S. Attorney William Frentzen said Chow corrupted the tongs by trying to relive the glory days of the late 1980s and 1990s when the Hop Sing Tong “merged with the Wo Hop To triads.”
“When Mr. Chow doesn’t get what he wants, he takes over,” Frentzen said. “Mr Chow created within the membership of the GKT a criminal organization. No one is attacking the good part.”
The trial is the result of a five-year undercover FBI investigation in which an agent posing as an East Coast mobster named David Jordan got close to Chow, and through him made connections in the Tong that allowed him to launder money and deal in “stolen” alcohol and cigarettes.
Jordan would later hand Chow envelopes full of cash, which the prosecution said was for the privilege of conducting the illicit business. Chow’s lawyers claim the money was a token of love and respect, pointing to Jordan’s taped statements of “I love you” to Chow when the money was handed over.
“My client still believes and testified honestly that it was being given to him as a charitable gesture because he was indigent and it was for love and friendship,” Serra later told reporters. “Not because it was commission or a fee predicated on illegal activity.”
Curtis Briggs, another Chow attorney, said, “They did something because it’s something he’s used to getting and something that would be offensive to turn down.”
Chow was arrested on March 26, 2014, in a massive FBI sting that netted 29 defendants including former Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee. Yee has since pleaded guilty to racketeering.
Several of Chow’s fellow defendants testified against him, implicating Chow as the one who gave the order to kill Leung because Leung refused to loan him $150,000 from the GKT’s coffers.
In finishing up his closing remarks Tuesday, Serra slammed the cooperating witnesses as untrustworthy career criminals.
“Would you want any of them babysitting your children? Would you want your daughter or girlfriend to socialize with them? Would you trust them one inch? The answer has to be overwhelmingly no,” he said. “If you can’t trust a person in the ordinary course of life, then how can you even accept their word and predicate any kind of verdict on their testimony.”
Frentzen countered in his rebuttal, “They were horrible human beings because they learned from Raymond Chow.”
Just before jury deliberations, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer granted the defense’s request to dismiss a juror who had been talking about the case outside the courtroom.Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Badger brought the incident to Breyer’s attention weeks ago, saying she heard from another attorney that the juror had told his sister he was on the case and believed Chow was guilty. The attorney heard this from the sister at a dinner party last month and then told Badger.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Serra said of the booted juror, “We’re delighted. His body language was always negative, never a smile. I didn’t like him the second day of the trial. I said, why did I keep that guy?”
Serra blasted the government’s claim that Chow had told Jordan in a nightclub that he knew what was going on with his people and approved of it, a statement that was not caught on tape.
“That was not caught in any kind of recording, that was allegedly whispered in my client’s ear,” Serra said. “No one heard it and from our perspective, it’s pure baloney.”
Serra said that he thought “we were in pretty good shape, a bit ahead” after he wrapped up his closing, but added that after Frenzen finished, “I thought we were once again even.”
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