SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - With testimony in the Shrimp Boy racketeering trial delayed, the federal judge overseeing the case sparred with Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow's lead counsel over whether to reveal the identity of the undercover FBI agent who investigated Chow for nearly four years.
"His identity is no secret anyway," Chow's lawyer J. Tony Serra told U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer Tuesday morning after the jury was dismissed for the day, referring to the fact that a picture of the agent posing as an East Coast mafioso named David Jordan has already been widely disseminated online.
Proceedings were halted due to the sudden illness of Curtis Briggs, another principle member of Chow's defense team.
Serra added that although he hasn't yet filed a formal motion, he'd also like the courtroom reopened to the press and public. Breyer had ordered for the agent's entire testimony closed, though the press has been able to watch the proceedings via a live video feed in another part of the courthouse with the agent testifying off-camera.
Chow is accused of running the Ghee Kung Tong, a longtime Chinatown fraternal organization that he heads, as a criminal enterprise that trafficked drugs, guns and stolen goods. He also is charged with ordering the murder of his Ghee Kung Tong predecessor Allen Leung in 2006, and conspiring to murder fellow gang member Jim Tat Kong. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
Chow served prison time in 1978 for armed robbery and was sentenced in 2000 to 24 years for conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, murder for hire and a spate of other crimes. He was released in 2003 after testifying against his former boss Peter Chong, the leader of the Hong Kong-based gang Wo Hop To.
Serra said his team would like Jordan's real name so it can begin investigating his background - everything from possible civil lawsuits and domestic disputes to credit card debt and bankruptcies - for impeachment material.
"We're talking moral turpitude," Serra said. "Sometimes you get something really hot. And we've been denied all that."
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen said the issue had already been argued by the government in a sealed filing on which Breyer had already ruled.
Serra said the defense hasn't even seen this filing. "You know what I'm hearing? They back-doored us."
"We followed the law," Frentzen snapped.
Breyer intervened, saying, "There's a procedure for disclosing certain information." While the defense could request that the information be disclosed, the court must follow the law and preclude that information from being revealed, even if Serra felt that deprived his side of "certain constitutional rights."
"Due process being one of them," Serra sniffed.
Breyer ordered Serra to file a formal motion under seal, which he may later unseal if necessary.
The government is expected to wrap up its case by Dec. 18. After Jordan's testimony, Chow's former close friend and fellow defendant Andy Li is set to testify. Li pleaded guilty in September, along with a slew of other Ghee Kung Tong members, to money laundering, selling stolen cigarettes and conspiring to distribute marijuana.
On Tuesday, Serra fought to keep out a portion of Li's scheduled testimony where he is expected to say that Chow ordered him to commit arson. Frentzen said Chow had already admitted to giving the order in his testimony against Chong. The arson is also part of what led to a fight between Li and Chow outside a bar in 2013 where Chow questioned Li's loyalty, he added.
"I see my loyalty every day when I look in the mirror," Li allegedly told Chow, in reference to being badly burned in the arson.
The fight ended in Li being kicked out of the Ghee Kung Tong.
Frentzen said the events were "inextricably intertwined."
Chow's defense team has also moved to put Frentzen on the stand to impeach Li's credibility, as he has supposedly remarked that Li lied at his bail hearing. By putting Frentzen on the stand, Serra argued, he can show the jury that even Frentzen doesn't find Li believable.
Frentzen clarified Tuesday that Li's lawyers "filed declarations by other individuals that were false."
But Serra said Li was "trying to orchestrate his plea agreement" and had perjured himself, and it would be the "height of gross hypocrisy" not to allow a cross-examination of Frentzen.
Breyer said allowing Serra to examine Frentzen would be akin to putting the government on trial.
"To the extent that Mr. Li has made a statement, of course you can use that to impeach him. But what you can't use is the government's opinion on a certain occasion as to whether that was true. If it did come in it would create total prejudice," Breyer said.
Serra asked why not. "I've been allowed to question prosecutors at the state level," he said.
Breyer was incredulous. "Really?"
"Yes, Jim Lassart," Serra said, referring to prominent San Francisco defense lawyer and former Assistant U.S. Attorney James Lassart, now with Murphy Pearson Bradley & Feeney. Lassart represented former State Sen. Leland Yee, who was also ensnared in the FBI's five-year criminal probe of Chow and pleaded guilty to racketeering in July.
"His hands were shaking," Serra said.
Breyer laughed and said "I think all our hands would be shaking," and denied the motion.
In a phone interview later, Serra said Lassart had been the first prosecutor in the famous 1973 Chol Soo Lee case, where a Korean immigrant was accused and later acquitted of killing Chinatown gang leader Yip Yee Tak. The case had been overturned and was retried with another prosecutor.
The issue, as Serra remembered it, was over some exculpatory evidence that hadn't been disclosed.
Though it was over 30 years ago, Serra said he still remembers Lassart's shaky reaction on the stand."I do remember that," he laughed. "I got to go up close to him to show him some exhibit and I could see he didn't like it at all. No lawyer likes to be on the stand. We like to ask questions, not answer questions."Follow @MariaDinzeo
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.