Chinatown association leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow told a federal jury in San Francisco Monday that although he previously committed a raft of crimes, he vowed to stop committing them and kept that vow after being released from prison in 2003.
Chow heatedly denied at his racketeering trial that he had anything to do with two murders in which he is accused of participating.
Chow, 55, the chief or dragonhead of the Chee Kung Tong fraternal association, is accused of murder in aid of racketeering for allegedly arranging the slaying of his dragonhead predecessor, Allen Leung, who was killed by a masked gunman in his Chinatown import-export office in February 2006. Chow became the tong’s leader later that year.
Chow is also charged with conspiring to murder another rival, Jim Tat Kong, who was found shot to death in his car in 2013. Prosecutors allege that Chow asked an associate to kill Kong, but have said the associate was not the person who shot Kong.
Chow made his statements after taking the stand as the first witness in his own defense before the jury in the court of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer. Prosecutors completed presenting about five weeks of testimony in their side of the case on Friday.
In addition to the two murder-related charges, Chow is accused of racketeering by running a faction of the tong as an organized-crime enterprise between 2006 and 2014 and of numerous counts of money laundering.
Chow’s denials came after defense attorney Tony Serra asked him about rumors on the street in Chinatown in the mid-2000s.
Chow told the jury, his voice rising:
“I did not kill Allen Leung. I did not order the killing of Allen Leung.”
Of Kong’s murder, Chow said:
‘I did not order or talk about the killing. I am innocent of that and that’s a fact.”
Earlier in his testimony, Chow said he took a vow to renounce criminal activity and kept that vow after his release from federal prison in 2003.
“I changed myself. … I told myself I’m not going to cross the line to any crimes. I’m not going to do anything illegal.”
At the start of his testimony, Chow described his childhood in Hong Kong, where he joined a triad, an association whose members committed crimes, at age 10.
Chow said he moved with his family to San Francisco at age 16 in 1976. After about a month in high school, he dropped out, and joined the Hop Sing Tong, a group affiliated with the Chee Kung Tong that had a criminal section.
Under questioning from Serra, Chow acknowledged a 1978 state court conviction for armed robbery, for which he served seven years and four months in prison, and a 1986 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon for which he served about three years.
In 1992, he was accused in a federal indictment of charges including racketeering and gun trafficking. The trial was divided into two parts. In the first trial in 1996, he was convicted of seven gun trafficking charges and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The second trial on the racketeering charges had a hung jury, but Chow pleaded guilty in 2002 to that charge as part of a plea deal in which he testified against a colleague, Peter Chong, in exchange for a reduced sentence that brought him release from federal prison in 2003.
Chow did not go into detail in his testimony about the elements of the racketeering to which he pleaded guilty, which included murder for hire, arson, conspiracy to distribute heroin and conspiracy to commit extortion.
Under questioning from Serra, Chow acknowledged he signed the 2002 plea agreement, but said:
“A lot of things I don’t remember.”
Without giving specifics, Chow said he was responsible for about 65 percent of the crime details listed in the plea agreement, but said “the other 35 percent I had no idea” about. He said he had nevertheless agreed with two FBI agents’ description of the alleged crimes when the agreement was being written.
Shortly after Chow made his statement about his decision to stop criminal activity, a juror walked out of the courtroom. Breyer later told attorneys that the juror reported having an anxiety attack, and recessed the trial until later this afternoon while he conducted a hearing on whether the juror should be dismissed.
Prosecutors allege that after taking over leadership of the tong in 2006, Chow ran a faction of the group as an ongoing criminal enterprise between that time and his arrest last year.
In addition to racketeering and numerous counts of money laundering, Chow is accused of the 2006 murder of his predecessor, Allen Leung, and conspiring in the murder of another rival in 2013.
The defense contends he turned his life around and is now dedicated to community service and deterring Chinatown youth from crime.
Chow testified he reached his decision to change his path after three days of meditation sometime in late 2003 or 2004 near the Great Highway in San Francisco, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
He said that after his previous state and federal convictions, he was frightened that the FBI, San Francisco police and people who owed him money from previous gambling and drug deals were out to arrest or hurt him, and that in order to survive, “I need to change.”
Defense attorney Tony Serra asked:
“Did you make a vow not to engage in criminal activity?”
“Have you fulfilled that vow?”
“Have you since making that vow committed any crime?” .