Ninth Circuit Upholds Life Sentence of Chinatown Crime Boss

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Chinatown crime boss Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow will serve out his life sentence for murder after a Ninth Circuit panel upheld his conviction Wednesday.

A jury convicted Chow of 162 criminal counts in 2016, including money laundering, conspiracy to buy and sell stolen goods and conspiracy to kill a rival named Jim Tat Kong, who was found shot dead in 2013. He was also found guilty of ordering a hit on Allen Leung, a prominent businessman who was killed in his Chinatown import-export shop in 2006. 

Leung was at the time dragonhead of the Ghee Kung Tong, a Chinatown fraternal organization that Chow wanted to take over, and did so after Leung’s death. The Leung count alone carried a mandatory minimum life sentence.

Chow was unremorseful at his August 2016 sentencing.  “I’ll not apologize to the victims,” he said in court before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer. “I feel sorry for them because they did not get the right guy.”

He added, “I feel I’m the victim in this matter.”

In his appeal, Chow argued he was entitled to a new trial since the government improperly used statements he made about ordering several murders in a plea agreement for a prior criminal case. The government had promised not to use Chow’s previous statements against him so long as he testified truthfully at all future proceedings and trials.

“But in this case, Chow chose to take the stand and testify falsely that he had never participated in any murders. This was a breach of the plea agreement, which allowed the government to impeach Chow with his prior statements regarding his involvement in murders,” U.S. Circuit Judge Carlos Bea, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel

Bea noted the government did not use any of Chow’s prior statements against him until after he opened the door to it at trial, when he lied on the stand and said he never ordered any murders.

Chow’s arrest stemmed from a five-year undercover FBI investigation of the Ghee Kung Tong, which also caught former state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and former San Francisco school board President Keith Jackson, who fundraised for Yee and worked with Chow’s organization.

Both pleaded guilty in July 2015 to one count of felony racketeering after reaching a deal with federal prosecutors, and were sentenced in 2016 to five years and nine years, respectively.

Yee was in desperate need of money to retire a $70,000 debt from his failed 2011 San Francisco mayoral bid, and to run for secretary of state in 2014.

In 2011, he enlisted Jackson, who was then a political consultant, to solicit money from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen.

The Ninth Circuit panel rejected Chow’s contention that Breyer improperly withheld the identities of two FBI agents who testified against him. 

“In this case, the undercover FBI agents’ identities are classified, and the government has put forward evidence (which we reviewed in camera) strongly suggesting that disclosure of the agents’ identities would threaten their safety,” Bea wrote. “Balancing this concern against Chow’s interest in discovering the agents’ identities, we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion by ordering the agents’ identities withheld.”

The men gave testimony in a closed courtroom, which Chow also challenged as unconstitutional, but the appellate judges found Breyer’s decision to allow the press and public to watch the testimony via live video with the agents’ faces obscured preserved Chow’s right to a public trial.

But the panel found Breyer needs to re-evaluate his order that Chow forfeit $225,000 in property acquired from the racketeering conspiracy, as a 2017 Supreme Court ruling in Honeycutt v. United States may limit the forfeiture to the amount Chow personally received from his involvement.

Senior U.S. Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith, also a George W. Bush appointee, and U.S. District Judge Rosemary Marquez, sitting by designation from the District of Arizona and a Barack Obama appointee, joined Bea’s opinion.

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