SAN FRANCISCO (CBS-SF) — A defendant who federal prosecutors claim ordered the murder of a rival and was at the center of a criminal organization in San Francisco’s Chinatown that laundered money and trafficked in guns and drugs will take the stand to defend himself, his attorney told jurors during opening arguments on Monday.
Famed defense attorney J Tony Serra told jurors that there is no evidence that Raymond ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow took part in any killings. Serra said Chow would “be all the difference in the case” when it was time for him to take the stand and testify.
He also told jurors that Chow had reformed his life and was looking forward to a lucrative book deal.
“My client is not, and they will never show he is anything analogous to a godfather,” Serra said.
Meanwhile in his opening argument, federal prosecutor Waqar Hasib recreated the scene when Allen Leung, the head of the Chinese fraternal group, the Ghee Kung Tong, was shot in February 2006, calling the slaying a “cold-blooded, gangland-style hit” ordered by Chow.
Chow was the focus of a lengthy organized crime investigation in Chinatown that ended up snaring a corrupt California senator and more than two dozen others. He has pleaded not guilty to murder, racketeering and money-laundering charges that could put him away for life.
Hasib said Chow was the sun at the center of a criminal universe.
Chow repeatedly accepted money from an undercover FBI agent posing as a member of the mafia despite denying he had any involvement in the agent’s money laundering and other crimes, Hasib said.
Jurors will hear a chilling recording of Chow talking to the agent about another murder Chow has been charged with and hear testimony from one of Chow’s co-defendants that Chow had ordered Leung’s murder, Hasib said.
Federal investigators say Chow took over the Ghee Kung Tong in 2006 after having Leung killed.
“This case is about this group of people engaging in this pattern of criminal activity,” Hasib said. “But most importantly, this case is about the person who is at the center of that, around whom all of that criminal activity revolved, around whom all those people revolved.”
Serra has argued in court papers that the government’s multiyear probe was a costly fishing expedition that induced innocent people into crime.
Legal observers say the racketeering conviction of state Sen. Leland Yee in July has largely validated the government’s probe and lowered the stakes for prosecutors in Chow’s trial.
Federal agents say that one of Chow’s associates was Keith Jackson, a former San Francisco school board president and well-known political consultant who raised money for Yee’s unsuccessful mayoral run in 2011 and bid for secretary of state.
Jackson led investigators to Yee, who acknowledged as part of his plea deal that he accepted thousands of dollars in exchange for favors and discussed helping an undercover FBI agent buy automatic weapons from the Philippines.
Yee is scheduled to be sentenced in December and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. Jackson pleaded guilty to the same racketeering charge as Yee and is also scheduled to be sentenced in December.
“The government has gotten what it wanted to get out of this investigation by already putting down Leland Yee,” said Peter Keane, a professor at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco and a former public defender. “He was their trophy.”
The investigation also sent a message to other politicians and Chinatown power brokers, said Rory Little, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings and a former federal prosecutor.
“‘Even Chinatown can be penetrated by government investigations, so stay on the up and up,”‘ he said. “‘And if you’re a state senator, don’t assume you’re safe.”‘
The judge overseeing Chow’s trial, Charles Breyer, said it could continue into February.
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