Red paper Chinese lanterns lining the streets at night. Narrow alleys in which “suspicious” activity sometimes takes place. Opium dens just around the corner dimly lit and occupied by some “questionable” figures. Gambling houses in the back rooms of local shops entered through secret doors. And, sometimes, gangland-style killings on the streets and in the alleys. Yet, no one sees anything and no one knows anything. These are images from California’s Chinatown and now involved in this mix a sitting Senator has been caught up in it all.
California State Senator Leland Yee D-San Francisco has been caught up in a sting operation undertaken by the FBI and it reveals the dark underground in San Fran’s Chinatown underworld. Even people familiar with the Chinatown neighborhood are stunned by it all as the FBI filed a criminal complaint which alleges the California lawmaker accepted money and campaign donations from a criminal gang in exchange for “official favors” and helping to broker an “arms deal.” And involved in the mess is one Raymond Chow whose nickname is “Shrimp Boy.”
FBI investigators say Chow is the leader (dragonhead) of one of the most powerful Asian gangs in North America. They say Chow and his gang lured Senator Yee into its sphere of influence via campaign donations and money as Yee was trying to build up his election coffers so he could run for Secretary of State in California.
“Shrimp Boy” Chow is a Chinese immigrant who came to the US in 1960 at the age of 16. He dropped out of high school and joined a Chinese gang called Hop Sing Tong. That came after Chow and some friends survived the 1977 shooting in Chinatown that left about a dozen people injured inside a local restaurant. Chow ended up serving time at the infamous San Quentin Prison in California following conviction of a robbery. Upon his release from prison he started working with a Hong Kong based gang known as the Wo Hop To which is a known organized crime organization. Chow himself has said that as a gang leader he’s run prostitution rings, smuggled drugs, and extorted thousands of dollars from business owners. But that was all back in the 1980s he says. Ah yes, it is that old gangland rule….”You pay me to protect you from me!”.
Chow is described as a “brute” by one California Justice Dept official. Apparently if he didn’t get his way he’d just go beat the door down violently and take whatever he wanted. In the 1990s Chow was convicted on gun charges and sentenced to 25 years to life but Chow cut a deal to win his release and he subsequently returned to Chinatown pledging to go straight. There he began working with at-risk youth and his work soon gained the attention of various prominent politicians. But the FBI says he used his position as a dragonhead to launder money, receive and transport stolen property, and traffic in contraband cigarettes.
Chow became the leader of the gang when its formerdragonhead, AllenLeung, mysteriously ended up shot dead by an unknown
masked gunman in 2006. The killer has never been caught and some have speculated that “Shrimp Boy” Chow might have had something to do with the killing.
Ironically, “Shrimp Boy” Chow has been lauded by US Senator Dianne Feinstein for his work as a criminal offender who became a community role model. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has praised him for his giving back to the community. And Chow even posted on Facebook picks of himself and California Lt Governor Gavin Newsom. Who would suspect that Chow had not gone straight but was still involved in Chinatown’s underground?
As for Senator Lee? He and one of his amigos were nailed by an undercover FBI agents several years ago. That agent was assigned to watch Chow! Senator Yee and his campaign consultant Keith Jackson got caught up in the FBI operation then too. And now the Senator is caught up once again in yet another FBI sting involving Chow.
Chow, Yee, and Jackson were all arrested yesterday in a series of FBI raids in Sacramento and the Bay Area. Other members of Chow’s gang were also picked up. Senator Yee is currently free on $500K bail and today he withdrew from the Secretary of State race. Chow was denied bail by the judge as he was deemed to be a flight risk and a danger to the public. Jackson was denied bail as well although the reason is unclear. Yee’s friends and allies question just why the Senator was targeted in the FBI sting as they are sure he couldn’t have knowingly been involved in any of Chow’s criminal activity.
This is actually a sad story for two reasons. One is that you have a somewhat popular state senator who many in Chinatown respected highly and who seemed to be getting on the road to a greater political career suddenly stopped in his tracks amid allegations that if proven will most certainly ruin him and end all of his political aspirations. And two, there is Chow. A man who served time in prison, who won his release, and who had the opportunity to go straight and truly be a role model for at-risk youth and other offenders. Chow seems to have cast that all down into the sewer, sadly, and now seems to only be proving what so many people think. That is, “criminals never change.” None of these men win in this matter. All lose. And we as a society lose, yes, once again.
Opium dens, backroom gambling houses, killings, money laundering, dark alleys, red paper Chinese lanterns…..most people will tell you that Chinatown is pretty safe most of the time and, indeed, it is. But every now and then the dragon of the underground raises its head and when it does no one in Chinatown is safe until the dragon goes back to the underground.
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