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Over the past month, he invited me to join him as he helped hand out bags of jasmine rice donated by members of a Buddhist temple to senior citizens in Chinatown. He talked with children and teens at a barbecue hosted by United Playaz, a violence-prevention program with the slogan "It takes a thug to save a thug." And he was one of the speakers at a 200-person banquet held in July at the Four Seas Restaurant on Grant Avenue, where he talked about the importance of providing educational and recreational activities for youth, especially new immigrants.
"Now, he's start[ed] doing a lot of things for Chinatown!" business owner Glenn Tom said proudly, nodding approvingly at Chow. Tom, who owns numerous businesses including the Cathay House Restaurant on California Street, has known Chow since he was a teenager. And he repeatedly said he's thrilled the longtime bad boy is finally following his advice "to behave and be a good boy." He even gave Chow a ring that matches his own a gold one with a jade oval surrounded by diamonds.
Sitting between Tom and Chow, their friend David Wong said he thinks Chow's demonstrated devotion to community service will win over the skeptics who believe he's still secretly "making some fast money" on the side. "From the bottom of my heart, I believe he is changing," said Wong, who runs the Ying On Labor & Merchant Association. He wants people to judge his friend not by his past, but by his actions.
But not everybody is buying Shrimp Boy's story as a tale of redemption. For example, Chow also participated in a recent press conference with members of the new committee calling for the recall of Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. Chow says he joined the committee because he's an advocate of the proposed 17-story city college building in Chinatown, a design Peskin has called a "monstrosity." But Peskin suspects Chow has other motives. "I think he's making a play for legitimacy in Chinatown by hopping on the issue du jour," Peskin said. "And I think his presence is bizarre and designed to intimidate." Chow says if more people believed that he'd gone clean, he'd be far away from San Francisco, living under an assumed identity in the federal Witness Protection Program. He says federal prosecutors initially promised him witness protection, but, in the end, they never came through. He suspects law enforcement is allowing him to walk the streets of San Francisco as bait adding there's a long line of people looking for revenge.
Brian Stretch from the U.S. Attorney's Office said that, as part of Chow's plea agreement, the government agreed to make an application for the federal Witness Protection Program and an S-visa on his behalf. However, Stretch said he couldn't provide additional information about Chow's situation because it's not public record.
Some say he should have never been released and believe Chow is partly to blame for a flare-up of Chinatown criminal activity not long after he got out of prison. "He's the worst of the worst," California Department of Justice Special Agent Ignatius Chinn told local CBS affiliate KPIX last year. "They made a deal with the devil and now the devil's out."
Allen Leung played many roles in the community. He was a businessman who founded a martial arts studio with his brothers, as well as a travel agency that later became an import-export business. He sat on city commissions and task forces.
He was also a leader in both Hung Moon Ghee Kong Tong and Hop Sing Tong. Whereas the criminal behavior of triads is quite clear, there's a bit more mystery around the activities in tongs. Tongs are generally fraternal organizations established for social and business purposes. Some (like the Hop Sing Tong) have been placed on the FBI's list of criminally influenced tongs, while others are seen as benevolent organizations devoted to promoting Chinese culture.
Despite Leung's apparent power and respect, he also had enemies. In February 2006, a masked gunman entered Leung's Chinatown import-export business and repeatedly shot him in the head in front of his wife. The murder remains unsolved a mystery with Chow at the center of it.
In 2005, about a year before his execution-style killing, Leung went to the San Francisco Police Department and the FBI and told them he feared for his life, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. He also informed the FBI of an alleged extortion plot. He told a federal agent that Chow had shown up at Hop Sing Tong in late 2004, demanding $100,000, the Chronicle reported. At the time, Chow was also Leung's second in command at Hung Moon Ghee Kong Tong.
In February 2005, several tongs and a restaurant were tagged with red paint, seen as a threat that danger was coming. Leung and other Hop Sing Tong board members called an emergency meeting, but voted to not provide the money. Soon after, Hop Sing's doorway was sprayed with bullets. The tong then received an anonymous letter, which had a New York return address but had been postmarked in San Francisco. The note, addressed to Leung and two other men, read: "Someone open fire at your front door, but you're just chicken shit, no response to it, just keeping your mouth quiet. Having this kind of leader makes all the tongs lose face. I have a poem to dedicate to you. It says you should be embarrassed for a thousand years and your reputation stink for ten thousand years," according to the Chronicle.
Chow denies demanding money from Hop Sing Tong, and says most of what he knows about all of these allegations he learned in the newspapers. He adds that he's "not the problem" and can't control some gang members trying to use his name in their own extortion plots.