SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A former aide to Chinatown tong leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow testified at Chow’s murder and racketeering trial in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday that he conspired in the murder that Chow is accused of ordering.
Kongphet Chanthavong told the U.S. District Court jury that his role in the plot was to surveill the business office of the victim, Allen Leung, for several weeks before Leung was slain by a masked gunman on Feb. 27, 2006.
At the time, Leung was the leader or dragonhead of the Chee Kung Tong civic association. Later that year, Chow became his successor. Chow, 55, is accused of murder in aid of racketeering for allegedly ordering the Leung’s murder. He is also charged with racketeering conspiracy; conspiring to murder another associate, Jim Tat Kong, in 2013; conspiring to receive stolen property and money laundering.
If convicted of the murder in aid of racketeering charge, Chow would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Chanthavong, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges, also testified that a few months before the murder, Chow told him and three other associates outside an Oakland bar, “I want you to take care of this.”
He said Chow made that statement in English after speaking with the other three men in Chinese, which Chanthavong, a Thai citizen, does not understand.
A little later, Chow reiterated to the group, “I want you guys to coordinate with this and make it happen,” Chanthavong testified.
Chanthavong did not testify, however, that Chow explicitly mentioned Leung’s name or the nature of the assignment.
Instead, Chanthavong testified, as he and two other men subsequently “brainstormed” how to carry out Chow’s instruction, “That’s when I learned someone was going to get taken out…killed.”
Chanthavong said he realized that Leung was the intended victim later when he was surveilling Leung’s import-export office to gather information on when he might be most vulnerable.
Chanthavong, 37, of San Francisco, is one of several co-defendants who have pleaded guilty to various charges and agreed to testify against Chow in hopes of gaining a more lenient sentence.
Another is Andy Li, 42, of South San Francisco, who prosecutors say will testify that Chow asked him in 2011 or 2012 to murder Kong, but later told him his services were not needed. Kong was found fatally shot in his car in Mendocino County in 2013.
Chanthavong pleaded guilty in a public court session in September to one count of marijuana distribution, three counts of selling guns without a license and three counts of being an ex-felon in possession of a gun.
Sometime later, in a sealed document, he also pleaded guilty to the racketeering conspiracy charge and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
He testified Tuesday that as part of the racketeering plea, he admitted to conspiring to murder Leung, being at meetings where the murder was planned and conducting the surveillance.
The recent agreements by Chanthavong, Li and several other former associates to testify against Chow led prosecutors to seek a revised grand jury indictment last month that added charges that Chow participated in the two murders. Until then, no one had been charged in either murder.
Defense attorney Tony Serra contended in his opening statement Monday that the former associates’ testimony will not be credible because the witnesses are “acting out of desperation” to obtain lighter sentences.
Chanthavong testified that in February 2006, he was summoned to a meeting with several other men, not including Chow, in a South San Francisco hotel and was told, “The job is going down tonight.”
At that point, Chanthavong said, “I wasn’t comfortable” with the prospect of participating in murder and told the others that he wasn’t needed because there were enough other people to carry it out.
“I’m not a killer. I’m a drug dealer,” Chanthavong testified.
The murder didn’t happen that night, but a week or two later, Chanthavong read in newspapers that Leung had been killed, he said.
When he saw Chow after that, Chanthavong said, he didn’t mention Leung’s name.
“Some things you just don’t talk about. The guy was murdered. You don’t ask questions,” he said.
Chanthavong told the jury that when he attended Leung’s funeral in March 2006, “It felt strange. I knew what happened. I knew I played a part in it. I knew who ordered it,” he said.
Chanthavong testified for about an hour Tuesday afternoon and will continue on the stand when the trial in the court of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer resumes on Thursday.
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