SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - People can change, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow's attorney told jurors Monday in closing arguments in Chow's racketeering and murder conspiracy trial, claiming that prosecutors "went to the toilet and they scraped the bowl" to find "scumbags" to testify against his client.
Attorney J. Tony Serra hammered on the government's claims that Chow only feigned to distance himself from his criminal associates' money laundering and illicit alcohol and cigarette deals, while directing the deals behind the scenes.
Chow was arrested on March 26, 2014 in a massive FBI sting that netted 29 defendants, including former Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering.
Chow is accused of running the Ghee Kung Tong, a Chinese fraternal organization, as a criminal enterprise trafficking in drugs, guns and stolen property.
He also is charged with ordering a fatal hit on Allen Leung, his GKT predecessor, in 2006, and with conspiring to murder Jim Tat Kong, a rival in the Hop Sing Tong, a gang with GKT ties to which Chow also belonged.
In his closing argument Monday, Serra attacked the prosecution's use of cooperating witnesses.
"They knew they were weak, that they were going to lose, that they had invested all of this money in a case where their trophy was going to walk because they didn't have hard evidence. So what did they do? They went to the toilet and they scraped the bowl and they came up with five or six or seven scumbags and it turned into a murder case, or a conspiracy to murder case," Serra said.
"They're like a bunch of crabs in a bucket crawling all over each other, mainly my client, hoping to get some kind of freedom, all of them facing years and years of prison.
"Is there any question in your mind they would do anything to save their own skin? They would lie, they would cheat, they would testify against their own mother if it got them out of jail. Informants are a cancer in the truth-seeking process of litigation."
Earlier Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Badger recapped Chow's orchestration of the illicit liquor and cigarette deals, recalling testimony from an undercover FBI agent posing as an East Coast mobster named David Jordan. Jordan paid Chow with envelopes containing $500 to $7,000 for allowing him to do business with Ghee Kung Tong members.
Chow would refuse the money at first, disavowing knowledge of the business for which Jordan paid him. But in the end, Chow took the money, telling Jordan, "I love you, man," or, "I could use this."
"Chow knew. He was involved, he made the introductions," Badger said. "That's what racketeering is. Everybody works to insulate that guy but behind the scenes he knows and he's a part of it."
Serra, however, called FBI agent Jordan a "Judas liar" who took advantage of the knowledge that his wire recordings of Chow would eventually be played for a jury, and used Italian Mafia lingo that Chow didn't understand.
"Did my client even understand his jargon? Do you think my client is familiar with all the euphemisms used by the undercover? Fell off the truck. My client has no knowledge of New York slang," Serra said, likening Jordan's methods to the "spy state" George Orwell warned about in "1984."
This prompted U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer to intervene.
"I'm arguing," Serra said.
"You have to argue what the law is," Breyer said.
Turning to the jury, the judge said: "You cannot pass judgment on the undercover's tactics. The court has instructed you that the undercover agent may engage in illegal undercover activities. It is not up to the jury to pass judgment as to the propriety of that law. Counsel's remark that you should not sanction this type of conduct is actually an incorrect statement of the law."
Breyer also slammed Serra's argument that a guilty verdict in a case relying heavily on informants and wiretaps would lead to "more drones, more wiretaps, more body wires," and that even mosques and synagogues would not be safe from government intrusion.
Breyer said the jury should not be concerned with the hypothetical consequences of its verdict.
"You are not here to decide whether there will be more things like wiretaps and invasion of people's religious liberty," he said.
In her closing argument, Badger repudiated Serra's claim that Chow is a reformed gangster who, after getting out of prison in 2003 in exchange for testifying against another Chinatown gang leader, had taken a vow to change his life.
She told the jury that while Chow was not directly responsible for the 2013 shooting death of Jim Tat Kong, he did conspire in 2011 to have Kong killed by asking his Hop Sing Tong associate Andy Li to "find someone to take care of Jimmy."
In arguing that Chow played a direct part in Leung's murder, Badger cited FBI agent William Woo, who had testified that Leung came to him five times between 2003 and 2005 saying he was afraid of Chow, who had been after him for a $150,000 loan from the GKT.
She cited phone records that showed that on Feb. 27, 2006, the day Leung was shot dead in his Chinatown import-export shop, Chow's phone called a phone number linked to the house where the shooters had been staying.
"Six months later, Raymond Chow had the power, the position, the respect. He established himself in Chinatown. Allen Leung was out of the way," Badger said.
"Raymond surrounded himself with criminals. He corrupted and controlled his power base through the Ghee Kung Tong and Hop Sing Tong and when opportunity presented itself in the form of David Jordan, he did not hesitate to benefit. He thought he could keep his hands to his ears and claim, 'I don't know; I am innocent.' Raymond Chow thinks he is smarter than you, but he is not."
Chow could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of all 162 counts of racketeering, money laundering, murder in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.