Trial of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow Begins; Will Not Be Speedy

Raymond Chow goes on trial today. Perhaps you've heard of him.

The Chinatown don known as “Shrimp Boy” did all manner of dirty deeds during a decades-long criminal career but publicly turned away from a life of crime to become, among other things, a mentor for youth. That, according to federal prosecutors, was all a carefully-orchestrated facade, behind which Chow continued to run a criminal enterprise that dealt in — among other things — illicit cigarettes and booze, corrupt politicians, and murder.

Since Shrimp Boy's arrest in 2014, nearly everyone in San Francisco has been dragged into the scandal in one way or another. We've seen former state Sen. Leland Yee plead guilty to corruption, we saw current Assemblyman David Chiu wear a wire, and we've seen Mayor Ed Lee's name mentioned in FBI wiretaps.

Shrimp Boy's trial is likely to last until January or after, which means we could see a lot, lot more from him and from his defense team, led by legendary attorney J. Tony Serra.

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Chow is a charismatic man, so charismatic that you could be forgiven for forgetting for a second that the feds accuse him of orchestrating the shooting death of Allen Leung, who Chow succeeded as boss or “dragonhead” of the Ghee Kung Tong, a Chinatown fraternal organization that dates to Gold Rush days. (Chow, recall, attended Leung's funeral wearing a striking white suit; the takedown operation led by the feds was called “Operation Whitesuit.”)

Chow is also accused of conspiring to kill two other people, who were found dead with gunshot wounds to the head in Mendocino County in 2013.

To prove this and Chow's other alleged misdeeds, the feds relied heavily on an undercover agent who infiltrated Chow's inner circle while posing as a member of the Italian mafia. This agent, “UCE 4599,” and other undercover FBI assets spent lavishly in their pursuit of Chow, Yee, and a total of 28 defendants, with frequent trips to high-end restaurants and Hawaii as part of the investigation.


That's partially what Chow's legal team will use as a defense. The trips to karaoke bars, the heaps of alcohol, and the eventual hand-to-fist cash transactions were all “outrageous government conduct,” according to filings from Serra and co-attorney Curtis L. Briggs. Whether that can lead to an acquittal is suspect, but it could influence the jury.

About that jury. They're in for a ride. Reports today indicate that the trial could last well into the New Year, perhaps until February. What other public officials still out on the streets will be accused of malfeasance? Considering that associates of Shrimp Boy are still active in Chinatown politics on behalf of the mayor, it could be plenty. Buckle in.

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