Tuesday Morning News Roundup
Update: Chow Portrayed As Either Crime Impresario or Visionary Leader in Conflicting Opening Statements
A federal jury in San Francisco heard conflicting portrayals of Chinatown association chief Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow on Monday as either a crime impresario who arranged the cold-blooded murder of a rival, or as a “visionary” leader dedicated to helping Chinese immigrants.
Chow, 55, is the leader or dragonhead of the Chee Kung Tong civic association. Monday was the first day of his trial in the court of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer on charges of racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to receive stolen property and money laundering. The trial is expected to last three months.
Prosecutors allege that he ran a faction of the tong as a criminal enterprise and ordered the 2006 murder of his predecessor as the dragonhead, Allen Leung. He is also accused of seeking the murder of another former associate, Jim Tat Kong, who was fatally shot in his car in Mendocino County in 2013.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Waqar Hasib began his opening statement with a vivid description of a masked gunman bursting into Leung’s import-export office in Chinatown the afternoon of Feb. 27, 2006. The gunman shouted “Robbery, robbery” and then shot Leung and fled without taking the several thousand dollars in his office, Hasib said.He told the jury that although Chow did not pull the trigger, he ordered the murder and was responsible. Chow became the Chee Kung Tong dragonhead later that year.
“This was not some random killing. This was something much darker, much deeper. This was a cold-blooded gangland-style hit — it was murder,” Hasib asserted.
The charge of murder in aid of racketeering carries a mandatory life sentence if Chow is convicted. Chow was at the center of the other crimes carried by his tong associates as well, Hasib alleged. “All the crimes being committed revolved around Raymond Chow. This person was at the center, like planets revolving around the sun. One might call him the sun. That’s what he called himself,” Hasib told the jury.
By contrast, Chow’s lead attorney, veteran criminal defense lawyer Tony Serra, 80, contended Chow turned his life around after serving prison time for previous racketeering and gun-dealing convictions and became devoted to keeping young Chinese immigrants from turning to crime. “He had an epiphany and changed his life,” said Serra, who called Chow a “visionary” and a “true leader of his people.”
“The evidence will not show that my client participated in the murder of anyone, period. My client did not participate in any criminal acts,” Serra told the jury. Serra showed the jury a photo of a smiling Chow at his inauguration as the tong dragonhead. “This is not the face of someone who has killed to gain his position. It’s quasi-beatific,” Serra maintained.
Chow was one of 29 people indicted last year in a wide-ranging indictment that included both organized-crime charges against most defendants and political corruption charges against former state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo.
The investigation led to Yee through Keith Jackson, a political consultant and fundraiser and former San Francisco school board president who knew both Chow and Yee. Last July, Yee and Jackson pleaded guilty before Breyer to engaging in a racketeering conspiracy to accept campaign contributions as bribes for political favors. Jackson’s son, Brandon Jackson, and sports agent Marlon Sullivan pleaded guilty to participating in a separate racketeering conspiracy to engage in organized crime, the same conspiracy charge that Chow faces.
Chow was originally slated to go on trial with seven co-defendants, but the other seven all pleaded guilty to various charges in September, leaving Chow as the only defendant in the current trial. Two of those co-defendants, Kongphet Chanthavong and Andy Li, have now cooperated with prosecutors and will testify against Chow. Chanthavong, described by Hasib as acting as a security guard for Chow, is due to take the witness stand sometime on today. Hasib said he will describe disputes between Chow and Leung in 2005 and will testify that he conducted surveillance of Leung’s office for several weeks in preparation for the murder, but got cold feet and did not participate in the killing. Chanthavong, Li and Chow met in federal prison in Dublin, according to prosecution documents.
Hasib said Li will testify that Chow asked him in 2011 or 2012 to murder Kong, but later told him his services were no longer needed and that “it was handled.” Serra told the jury the Chanthavong, Li and several other associates scheduled to testify against Chow are doing so in hope of receiving light sentences and are not credible. “They are acting out of desperation. They’ll say anything to save their own skin, to get some kind of leniency,” Serra said.
The trial evidence will include hours of recordings secretly made by undercover FBI agents, including tapes recorded on a body wire beginning in 2010 by an agent who went by the name of Dave Jordan and posed as an east coast Mafia member who wanted to launder money and deal in stolen goods through tong associates introduced to him by Chow.
Hasib and Serra clashed in their opening statements about the interpretation of tapes on which the agent is heard offering money as thanks for the connections and Chow is heard saying “No, no, no, no.” Hasib said Chow kept up “an elaborate cover” by saying he was refusing the money, but nevertheless silently accepted envelopes of money placed in his pocket by the agent.
Serra said he was sincere in refusing it. “When he says ‘no, no, no,’ he’s telling it like it is,” Serra told the jury. Serra said Chow will testify in his own defense when his side of the case is presented in the second half of the trial. He predicted that testimony “will make all the difference in this case” and enable to jurors to see Chow’s “spiritual side.” The first prosecution witnesses Monday afternoon were a now-retired police officer who was the first arrive at the scene of Leung’s murder and FBI Agent William Wu, who testified Leung told him he was frightened of Chow.
Wu will continue on the stand when the trial resumes in Breyer’s Federal Building courtroom at 9 a.m. today.
Developer on Major SOMA Project Agrees to Increase Affordable Units to 40 Percent
The developer of a major new housing development in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood that is set to come before the Board of Supervisors next week has agreed to make 40 percent of the units in the project affordable, city officials said Monday.
The 5M project, which won unanimous approval from the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday, had previously included 33 percent affordable housing units. Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the South of Market area, negotiated the new, higher levels with developer Forest City this weekend with the support of Mayor Ed Lee, officials said.
The 1.6 million square foot mixed-use project is located on a 4-acre site at Fifth and Mission streets. Plans call for three buildings, one office and two residential, and around 50,000 square feet of public open space, according to Forest City. The revised proposal includes a total of 601 market-rate units and 241 affordable units, including 87 rental units in one residential building targeting households with incomes ranging from 100 percent of the area median income to 150 percent.
In addition, the developer will pay for 71 units at a 113-unit affordable housing project at 168 Eddy St. that includes 30 units set aside for formerly homeless families and others set aside for those making less than 50 percent of the area median income. Forest City will also pay the land dedication and gap financing on an 83-unit senior housing project at 967 Mission St. designated for those making no more than 50 percent of the area median income.
Kim, who also negotiated 40 percent affordability on the San Francisco Giants’ Mission Rock project, which won approval from voters last month, Monday said that “40 is the new 30 when it comes to affordable housing.”
“I support development in San Francisco but we have to build for San Franciscans,” Kim said in a statement. “When the majority of San Franciscans qualify for affordable housing, that is who we should be building for and not just market rate luxury housing.” Lee said the project was an opportunity to work toward the city’s goal of building and rehabilitating 30,000 new homes by 2020, half of them affordable to low and middle-income families. He credited Kim for pushing to increase affordability and noted that Supervisor Scott Weiner had worked to make 5M the first project to pay transit impact fees on residential units.
“This 5M project provides an unusual downtown opportunity that will transform our acres of underutilized land to create affordable housing, jobs, parks and other community benefits,” Lee said in a statement. The 5M project has drawn opposition in the neighborhood from groups including the South of Market Community Action Network. The group has said the project will contribute to the displacement of residents in nearby single-room occupancy hotels and among the area’s Filipino community, members of which have been working with Kim to create a Filipino heritage district in
Weather Forecast for the San Francisco Bay Area
Today will be sunny. Highs will be around 60 and north winds will reach 5 to 10 miles per hour, becoming northwest winds in the afternoon. Tonight will be mostly clear. Lows will be in the upper 40s and northwest winds will reach 5 to 10 miles per hour in the evening, becoming light winds.
Veterans day will be sunny. Highs will be in the lower 60s and light winds will become northwest winds reaching around 5 miles per hour in the afternoon.