‘Shrimp Boy’ defense closes case in alleged Chinatown mobster’s federal trial

Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, at a ceremony inside the Ghee Kung Tong, which he headed as its dragon head. Chow was made head of the fraternal organization in 2006. (Courtesy/Chow's legal team)

The defense team for alleged Chinatown crime lord Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow rested its case in federal court Tuesday following weeks of testimony before Judge Charles Breyer.

The final day of the defense’s case in the murder conspiracy and racketeering case against Chow included testimony from an expert on Chinese American fraternal organizations known as tongs. Also testifying were Chow’s niece and a member of the Ghee Kung Tong — the group which Chow led as the president or dragonhead.

Bennet Bronson, formerly a curator at the Field Museum in Chicago who has studied tongs in America, said the FBI seems to incorrectly think triads from China are the same thing as tongs in the Unites States, which he said are not organized crime groups.

“We still are not seeing these mafia [like] heavies,” said Bronson about U.S. tongs. “You don’t see this in North America.”

When prosecutor William Frentzen pointed out several cases of tong members being involved in federal criminal cases, Bronson admitted there have been some criminal cases involving tong members, but added he has not seen evidence of the whole organization working as a criminal enterprise, as the federal indictments seem to claim.

“What you’re saying is that tong members won’t sit around and vote on their criminal activities,” asked Frentzen rhetorically.

“They don’t seem to be that kind of organization,” replied Bronson.

Chung Szto, an elder of the Ghee Kung Tong, as well as its secretary, testified later in the day the organization is not criminal and never has been. Szto, who attended former Ghee Kung Tong leader Allen Leung’s funeral, said that Chow’s white suit was not a sign that he meant disrespect. Chow is alleged to have ordered Leung’s death.

“Anything in white,” said Szto, is meant to “show respect to the dead.”

Frentzen asked if anyone else at the funeral had worn white, but Szto said he wasn’t paying attention to everyone, including Leung’s family, who were dressed in black.

When the cross examination continued, Szto was seemingly caught in a contradiction about the tong being involved in criminal activity.

When Szto visited Chow in jail after his arrest, Frentzen said he was observed asking about who the “ghosts” or infiltrators in the tong were.

“Why did you have an interest in trying to figure out who wore a wire with Raymond Chow in this case,” asked Frentzen.

Szto only said he didn’t recall asking such questions. “I definitely did not talk about that,” he said through a translator. “I don’t know what informant is. I don’t know what that is.”

The defense in Chow’s case has consisted mostly of continued claims that while Chow took money from undercover FBI agents and socialized with petty criminals, he was not himself involved in any criminal acts after his 2003 release from prison.

Closing arguments by attorneys in the case are expected to happen early next week. The final arguments will mark the beginning of the end of the nearly two-year affair that began in March 2014 when federal raids nabbed Chow and more than 20 others, including former state Sen. Leland Yee and former school board member Keith Jackson.

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