Trial notes Dec 23,2015
Prologue: On March 13, 2014 FBI agents in San Francisco arrested 29 people, including State Senator Leland Yee, former San Francisco School Board President Mark Jackson, and Ray ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow, former gangster and head of the Chee Kung Tong. Those arrested were indicted for over 150 counts of money laundering, arms smuggling, and other charges. In July, Ray Chow, was also charged with two counts of murder; the 2006 murder of Allen Leung, the previous head of the Chee Kung Tong, and the 2013 murder of gang rival, Jim Tat Kong.
The trial began on November 9th and the prosecution’s case ended on December 20th The main murder evidence was the testimony of two of Chow’s co defendants who have made plea deals with the government.
The key witness in the trial has been an FBI undercover agent, who between 2008 and 2014, posed as “David Jordan”, a New York mobster. During this time Jordan, working with a number of Chow associates, laundered money, and smuggled tax free cigarettes and liquor. Jordan, and other agents, spent more than $1 million during the probe, running up tabs in high-end San Francisco restaurants and bars, such as the Fairmont, the Four Seasons, and the Starlight Room.
During the agent’s testimony the courtroom was cleared and the audience moved to a different room where they could hear the testimony, but not see the witness, who was hidden behind a screen. The prosecution used both transcripts of, and hours of secretly recorded tapes to support Jordan’s testimony.
Wednesday, December 23, was the second day of the Defense’s case. On Tuesday Ray Chow was questioned by his 80 years old attorney, Tony Serra. Serra is a legendary criminal defense lawyer, who was the subject of the 1989 move “True Believer” in which he successfully defended a Chinatown man on a murder charge.
At 9:00 AM the jury’s entrance into the room is delayed while Prosecutor William Frentzen asks Judge Charles Breyer to prevent the Defense from challenging the transcript. I’m just puzzled, not knowing that this episode is foreshadowing a dramatic moment later in the day.
I have been informed by some who have been attending the trial, that Judge Breyer, whose brother Stephen is on the Supreme Court, and Tony Serra have crossed swords before and that the judge is not particularly fond of the feisty octogenarian.
As the day begins, Chow is on the stand in the second day of the prosecutor’s cross examination. Frentzen wastes no time and hammers away at Chow trying to prove that Shrimp Boy was actively involved with crime in the Chee Kung Tong. Frentzen accuses Chow of bringing criminals into the Tong and being aware of their activities. Ray admits that some members had criminal records but declares that they did no illegal activities around him.
Chow readily admits some minor offences. He likes to go to clubs, drink too much, smoke weed, snort cocaine, and see hookers. Many members of congress have admitted as much, so these admissions are not too damaging.
Tony Serra’s objections are almost all overruled immediately by the judge. So Chow is on his own, with his opponent bearing down on him, and an unfriendly judge as the referee. Chow dances around, slowing Frentzen down, making him work for each point, Ray uses the Peek-a boo defense, like Floyd Patterson , bobbing and weaving , trying to stop Frentzen from landing a clean blow. Frentzen counters with contemptuous jabs and verbal eye rolling.
“You brought a criminal element into the Chee Kung Tong didn’t you?”
“Are you so naïve that you didn’t think the money was for your help?
“Are you a weak man?”
Frentzen is trying to anger Chow, hoping he will drop his guard. Chow replies that if people were breaking the law they were doing it on their own, not on behalf of him or the Tong.
At times Judge Breyer seems somewhat disconnected from the case, with an expression that seems to indicate that he would rather be in a hammock, reading a good murder mystery, than in the courtroom.
Frentzen uses sections of Chow’s unpublished autobiography against him. He reads a passage where Chow brags about his ability to understand what people are planning, Frentzen contrasts this with Chow’s denial that he knew about illegal activities
Chow replies by saying that , though he knew something “funny,” was going on, he purposely stayed ignorant of the details, so not to give the government an excuse to arrest him. “I don’t want to do crimes anymore. So when people start to talk about illegal activities I tell them ‘I don’t want to know,’ or I go in the other room. “
Chow, not a native English speaker, speaks with an accent and occasionally asks the Chinese translator at his side a question. He often pauses before he answers a questions, though this may be more to slow Frentzen’s timing rather than a lack of understanding of English. Some of Frentzen’s blows land catching Chow in discrepancies and unconvincing answers but Frentzen is not able to establish a clear admission of guilt.
Ray’s voice is heard on tape partying, laughing and calling Jordan “an outlaw” or a “bad man,” but he never discusses a crime, or asks for money. Whenever Jordan thanks Chow for his help, for introducing him to a crime partner, Shrimp Boy replies “ I didn’t do anything.” When Jordan tries to give him money, Chow modestly refuses, but eventually accepts the money when it is pressed upon him.
The fighters continue to move around the ring, but more slowly. It is a guessing game to see who will tire first, Chow, Frentzen, or the jury. My money is on Judge Breyer, whose head is slowly moving downward and may soon be parallel to his bench.
Seemingly frustrated, Frentzen finally ends his cross examination.
Tony Serra renews direct examination briefly and asks Shrimp Boy if he had recently listed to the tapes from which the transcripts were made. Chow explained that he had listened to the tape several times and realized that the transcript on the tape, which was used as a vital part of the charge of the murder of Allen Leung, was wrong
The transcript reads:
“You know, even Allen Leung even back then, you know when I’m talking to him, I’ll tell you one time. … You fuck around, you gone.”
Shrimp Boy testified that what he really said was:
“You know, even I learned even back then, you know when I’m talking to him, I’ll tell you one time… You fuck around, you gone.”
Serra, sly fox that he is, has cleverly managed to challenge the transcript without violating the judge’s order I can feel Frentzen’s disgusted and incredulous expression even though his back is to me, but after listening to the tape in the courtroom, I couldn’t tell which version was correct.
Alicia Lo, Chow’s girlfriend testifies. Lo, a business woman, statuesque, striking, and polished, quickly backed up three defense arguments:
Shrimp Boy had very little money. Alicia took him out to restaurants and she put him up in her apartment
Chow went to many dinners and parties each week and it was not uncommon for him to talk to 30 or 40 people in an evening.
Chow often received red envelopes filled with money as tokens of respect.
The cross examination, conducted by the junior prosecutor, evokes much head scratching in the audience. He plays some short sections of the tapes in which Jordan is talking loudly at a party and Lo occasionally responds. The tapes reveal the following key pieces of evidence:
Alicia asks Jordan how is business is doing
During a conversation, about crime in general, Alicia remarks that it would be interesting to meet a member of the Mafia
Alicia and Jordan discuss “Dexter” the Showtime drama about a vigilante serial killer
Alicia finishes her testimony and the prospect of a Christmas break seems to reinvigorate Judge Breyer. He delivers a courteous and concise talk to the jury, wishes them a happy holiday and the trial adjourns until Monday, December 28th.
I leave the courtroom pondering the case’s essential question:
If Shrimp Boy knew that illegal activities were taking place in the Tong, but didn’t want to know the specifics, didn’t authorize the crimes, and didn’t ask for money from the criminals, is he guilty?
More on Monday.