Defense Spars With|Judge in Chow Trial | Courthouse News Service
Sunday, December 3, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Defense Spars With|Judge in Chow Trial

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The federal judge in Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow's racketeering trial butted heads again with Chow attorney Curtis Briggs Friday, as the prosecution finished with its last witness.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer shut Briggs down as he cross-examined FBI Special Agent Emmanuel Pascua about his oversight role in the undercover operation that led to Chow's arrest.

Chow is accused of running a criminal enterprise that trafficked in drugs, guns and stolen goods, and of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.

Allen Leung was murdered in 2006, when a gunman burst into his import-export shop in San Francisco's Chinatown, pulled on a mask and shouted, "Robbery!" He shot Leung in front of his wife and a longtime friend.

Leung had been the dragonhead of the Chinese fraternal organization Ghee Kung Tong, which has been associated with the Hop Sing Tong, a criminal gang, and to which Hop Sing members pay respect. Chow succeeded Leung as dragonhead, and also headed Hop Sing.

Friday's testimony started with Pascua, who took charge of the Chow investigation in 2011. He told Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Badger that phone records showed Chow's phone had called phone numbers associated with co-conspirators on the day that Leung was murdered.

During cross-examination, Chow's attorney questioned whether the FBI was actively seeking other suspects in Leung's murder. Pascua said that the San Francisco Police Department has an open case and that police there and in Chicago are on the lookout for several others who the government believes were at the murder scene or in the getaway car.

Briggs also challenged Pascua about the role of FBI undercover agents and informants in money laundering and in selling untaxed cigarettes. Asked whether the agency had recouped about $1.7 million of the money spent on the investigation, Pascua said, "That's about right." He said that about $575,000 had come from the sale of untaxed and unstamped cigarettes and the rest from liquor.

But when Briggs asked Pascua whether the income reflected the expenses that the agency ran up during the investigation, including agent salaries, Judge Breyer stepped in.

"An agent's salary is irrelevant," Breyer said. Briggs explained that he wanted to clear up how the FBI accounts for undercover operations, but Breyer - clearly frustrated with Briggs - said that expenses are accounted for separately from income and that "I'm not going to have a colloquy about this."

Trying to change course but stay on the topic of Pascua's oversight, Briggs asked, "So, the FBI sold cigarettes without tax stamps on them?" Pascua said that three agents had sold unstamped cigarettes in New York and that the activity had been approved by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District at the time, Melinda Haag.

When Briggs asked Pascua if the agents were participating in illegal activity by selling the unstamped cigarettes, Breyer jumped in again.

"Actually, it's not illegal activity if it's part of a government investigation," Breyer said. He then read from a statute that undercover agents and informants may "properly assume roles in criminal organizations."

Briggs wanted the judge's citation stricken. But Breyer said he'd talk to Briggs outside of the jury's presence, adding, "I would very much appreciate if you would move on."

After a recess and before the jury reentered the courtroom, Breyer asked Briggs if he wanted to discuss something, and said Briggs's questions regarding FBI policies were all irrelevant.

"What is it you are challenging about the witness?" Breyer said, explaining that the defense could attack Pascua's testimony or credibility but could not try to elicit the agent to talk about how the FBI dealt with the unstamped cigarettes.

"You can smirk, Mr. Briggs, but that's police work," Breyer said. "And I'm sorry that you don't understand police work."

The defense begins its case next week.

Chow faces life in prison if convicted.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.