SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The government’s racketeering case against former Chinatown gang leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow heads to trial on Nov. 2, despite objections from defense attorneys that prosecutors haven’t turned over the wiretap evidence they need to prepare for trial.
It’s been nearly 16 months since Chow was rounded up in an FBI sting with 27 other defendants, including former state Sen. Leland Yee and former San Francisco school board president Keith Jackson.
Chow, a notorious Chinatown gang member, is charged with laundering gambling and drug money from an undercover FBI agent posing as a member of La Cosa Nostra from New Jersey, as well as conspiring to sell contraband cigarettes.
An affidavit by FBI special agent Emmanuel Pascua describes how the undercover operative used Chow’s contacts to infiltrate the Ghee Kung Tong. Chow allegedly once told that agent, “I don’t have any knowledge of the crimes that pay for my meal,” adding, “I’m still eating though. I’m hungry.”
At a hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer summarily dismissed a motion to suppress wiretap evidence, saying the government had enough probable cause to seek a surveillance warrant in its undercover investigation.
“There was more than enough evidence verified that would support the issuance of probable cause,” Breyer said. He also rejected arguments by defense attorneys that the government’s evidence in the form of statements from taped conversations was inaccurate, saying he had heard the statements that were made in the government’s transcript.
While the motion to suppress was filed by Yee’s and Jackson’s lawyers, it was joined by all defendants. Breyer said Tuesday that the order was attached to all defendants and “the issue has been adjudicated for all of you.”
Defense attorneys bristled at this. “We basically got cheated out of a motion to suppress,” Chow’s lawyer Curtis Briggs said in a post-hearing press conference. “That’s the judge trying to be efficient, asking us early on to join in those motions. Even though Keith Jackson and Leland Yee’s motions had nothing to do with us, every defendant was held to their motions. The motions talked about a lot of misconduct, and a lot of misstatements, and the judge basically didn’t bat an eye because that’s not something he’s concerned about.”
Jury selection for the trial of Chow and seven other defendants is set for Oct. 19.
“Don’t think they are all going to be there on Oct. 19,” Chow’s lawyer J. Tony Serra told reporters. “There have been negotiations and we anticipate at least half of them will be negotiating with regard to a plea for some government leniency. But we don’t fear that.”
He added, “Our client will not ever consider pleading and will testify on his own behalf.”
Yee and Jackson were scheduled for trial ahead of Chow, but they each pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering last week after negotiating plea agreements with the government. They could receive up to 20 years in prison when they’re sentenced in October, but it’s widely believed that neither Jackson nor Yee will serve nearly that long.
“That was our success as well as theirs,” Briggs said. “It’s a huge sign of weakness in the government’s case. It makes us feel even more confident going forward that we’re going to prevail at the jury trial.”
U.S. Attorney William Frentzen said the trial, expected to last two to three months, will have relatively few prosecution witnesses and that its star witness will be the one undercover agent who interacted with all eight defendants.
“It will all come down to one guy playing recordings,” he said.
Lawyers for the group of eight complained that the government still had not released thousands of hours of taped conversations that could be used at trial. Some of it is in Mandarin and Cantonese and hasn’t been translated, let alone transcribed.
Breyer said the government has until Sept. 1 to turn over discovery, but refused to force the government to translate everything, saying the finding of possible exculpatory evidence “doesn’t form a justification of translating 10,000 hours of tapes.”
He added that the issue of particular tapes the government doesn’t plan to use but the defense wants translated can be taken up with a magistrate judge.
“It is outrageous that the most significant evidence of the case is going to be given to us approximately one month before the trial starts,” Serra told reporters. “How can we digest that, how can we investigate that?”
The attorney added that he was “fried in terms of my psyche when [Breyer] made that ruling.” But he echoed Briggs’ confidence in a favorable outcome for Chow.
“[Chow] accepted relatively small amounts of money from this undercover operation. That was done not as consideration for any kind of under the table permitting of unlawful acts to proceed. We see that as the only real impediment in the case. Other than that it’s going to be exonerating,” Serra said.
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