SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Chinatown gangster Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow ordered the fatal hit on his rival and predecessor Allen Leung in 2006, his former security guard testified Tuesday at Chow's murder and racketeering trial.
Kongphet "Joe" Chanthavong said under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Waqar Hasib that Chow wanted Leung dead and told him and two other men to "make it happen." Leung was found shot dead in his import-export shop in Chinatown on Feb. 27, 2006.
Chanthavong said he met Chow in 2001 while both were serving time in federal prison. They reconnected on the outside and became fast friends. Chow gave Chanthavong money when he couldn't pay his rent.
"He said that's what brothers do, they look out for each other," Chanthavong said.
Around 2004, he began picking Chow up on weekends and driving him to bars in Oakland, where Chanthavong met guys in the Hop Sing Tong, a street gang to which Chow belonged.
Leung was president of the Hop Sing Tong and dragonhead of the Ghee Kong Tong, which describes itself as a Chinese Freemason group.
In 2005, Chanthavong said, Chow complained to him that Hop Sing Tong wouldn't give him money he needed to start a business.
"Ray was upset because he was not getting the money anymore for some reason," Chanthavong said, adding that the amount was somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000.
"He said he put in a lot of work back in the day for Hop Sing and they should loan him the money or give him the money so he could put something together."
Chanthavong said Chow told him he wanted Hop Sing member Raymond Lei, known as Skinny Ray, to take over Leung's position in the Hop Sing Tong.
Later that day at a bar in Oakland, Chanthavong said, he and Chow met with Skinny Ray and another man from Sacramento whom Chanthavong knew as Kevin.
After a conversation in Chinese that Chanthavong couldn't understand, he said, Chow turned to Skinny Ray and said in English, "I want you to take care of this." Chow then walked away.
Chanthavong said he did not know yet what "this" meant. When he refused Skinny Ray's order to steal a car for the job, he said, Chow was brought back into the conversation. Chanthavong said Chow told the three men to coordinate with Lei and "make it happen," then returned to the bar.
"We started brainstorming, and that's when I knew someone was going to get taken out," Chanthavong told the jury. He said he did not know yet who the target was, but soon learned it was Leung.
Chanthavong did surveillance of Leung's shop on Jackson Street for several weeks. The group had decided that the hit would take place on a rainy day, to avoid drawing suspicion if the gunman wore a hoodie.
A day or two before Leung was murdered in February 2006, Chanthavong said, he got a call from Kevin. He was told to meet him at a hotel in South San Francisco near the airport. Chanthavong did as he was told, and brought a friend from childhood with him.
"I walked in. That's when I learned the job's going down tonight. The hit," Chanthavong said.
"Right then and there I wasn't comfortable. I realized I screwed up because I brought my friend with me, so I was trying to find an excuse to walk out."
He said he told Kevin that it seemed there were enough guys for the job and that he wasn't needed.
"I didn't want to be a part of it. I'm not a killer, I'm a drug dealer. I've never killed anybody. To be a part of that brought a fear," Chanthavong testified.
He said that not only did he not want his friend sucked into a murder plot, the reality of the moment recalled childhood trauma. "I knew what it was like to be a victim of violent crime, to see someone you love be a victim. I saw my mom beaten, kicked and robbed in front of me."
Chanthavong said he took his friend and left the hotel. The next time he heard Leung's name, it was by reading about his murder in the newspaper.
Hasib asked Chanthavong what his reaction was.
"I knew it was going to happen, so it wasn't a surprise," he said.
The article included a sketch of the suspected gunman. He said he remembered joking in a bar with his friend Andy Li that the sketch looked like him.
"He said, 'That shit's not funny, stop joking around.'"
Chanthavong said he never mentioned the murder to Chow, not even when he showed up in the same bar.
Hasib asked why.
"You don't ask questions," Chanthavong said. "Once it's done, it's done."
Chow became dragonhead of the Ghee Kung Tong later that year.
Earlier Tuesday, FBI Agent William Wu testified that when he began meeting with Leung in 2003, Leung confided that he feared for his life and that he thought Chow was trying to replace him.
Defense attorney Curtis Briggs pointed out Leung's refusal to wear a wire, which Wu had requested to corroborate Leung's fears.
Wu replied that Leung said he was afraid Chow would discover the wire and kill him.
"Leung said he was a gang member, and that he could not use law enforcement to set up another gang member," Wu said under cross examination from Briggs.
After a series of violent events in Chinatown in 2004, Chow was handed over to immigration authorities. In exchange for his testimony against Chinese crime boss Peter Chong in 2002, Chow was free from prison and being monitored by the FBI. After those violent events, which included two rounds fired into the Hop Sing Tong's headquarters, Wu said the FBI "didn't feel comfortable" continuing to monitor Chow.
Wu added: "Chinatown was very quiet that entire year, until Chow was released in 2005."