A prime defendant in a San Francisco racketeering case ordered the killing of a rival before taking over his criminal organization in Chinatown that laundered money and trafficked in guns and drugs, a prosecutor said during his opening statement Monday at the high-profile trial.
The 2006 slaying of Allen Leung was a "cold-blooded, gangland-style hit'' ordered by defendant Raymond "Shrimp Boy'' Chow, federal prosecutor Waqar Hasib told jurors as he described the killing.
Defense attorney Tony Serra countered in his opening statement that Chow did not participate in any killings or other criminal activity detailed in the case that led to the conviction of former state Sen. Leland Yee on a racketeering charge.
Serra said Chow is a reformed criminal who will testify in his own defense at the trial and is looking forward to a lucrative book deal about his colorful life.
"My client is not, and they will never show he is anything analogous to a godfather,'' Serra said.
Chow was the focus of the lengthy investigation in Chinatown that resulted in more than two dozen arrests. Hasib called him the sun at the center of a criminal universe and accused Chow of repeatedly accepting money from an undercover FBI agent posing as a member of the mafia.
Serra said his client was broke after leaving prison, and the agent forced the money on him, often when Chow was drunk.
Hasib, however, said jurors will hear a chilling recording of Chow talking to the agent about another killing that resulted in a murder charge against Chow.
In addition, a co-defendant will testify that Chow ordered the killing of Leung, who was then head of a fraternal organization known as the Ghee Kung Tong, the prosecutor said.
Federal investigators say Chow took over the Ghee Kung Tong after having Leung killed.
"This case is about this group of people engaging in this pattern of criminal activity,'' Hasib said. "But most importantly, this case is about the person who is at the center of that, around whom all of that criminal activity revolved, around whom all those people revolved.''
Serra said Chow's co-defendants would say anything to get a lighter sentence.
Legal observers say the racketeering conviction of Yee in July has largely validated the government probe.
Federal agents say one of Chow's associates was Keith Jackson, a former San Francisco school board president and well-known political consultant who raised money for Yee's unsuccessful run for San Francisco mayor in 2011 and his bid for secretary of state.
Jackson led investigators to Yee, who acknowledged as part of his plea deal that he accepted thousands of dollars in exchange for favors and discussed helping an undercover FBI agent buy automatic weapons from the Philippines.
Yee is scheduled to be sentenced in December and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. Jackson pleaded guilty to the same racketeering charge as Yee and is also scheduled to be sentenced next month.
"The government has gotten what it wanted to get out of this investigation by already putting down Leland Yee,'' said Peter Keane, a professor at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco and a former public defender. "He was their trophy.''
The investigation also sent a message to other politicians and Chinatown power brokers, said Rory Little, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings and a former federal prosecutor.
"Even Chinatown can be penetrated by government investigations, so stay on the up and up,'' he said. "And if you're a state senator, don't assume you're safe.''
Judge Charles Breyer said the trial could last until February.