San Francisco Chinatown Gang Leader Convicted of Murder Refuses to Apologize to His Victims at Sentencing - NBC Bay Area
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San Francisco Chinatown Gang Leader Convicted of Murder Refuses to Apologize to His Victims at Sentencing

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    A San Francisco Chinatown gangster whose conviction on murder and racketeering charges was part of a major federal organized crime investigation that also brought down a state senator was sentenced Thursday to two life terms. Stephanie Chuang reports. (Published Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016)

    A dapper San Francisco Chinatown gangster known as "Shrimp Boy" whose conviction on murder and racketeering charges was part of a major federal organized crime investigation that also brought down a state senator was sentenced Thursday to two life terms — one for killing a rival — and more than 3,000 years in prison.

    U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer said Raymond Chow's claim during his trial that he had had an epiphany and abandoned his criminal ways was "highly manipulative" and contrary to the evidence.

    "The defendant is not going to change," the judge said.

    The case against Chow, 56, exposed the underworld in one of the nation's oldest Chinatowns.

    His prosecution was part of a major organized crime investigation in Chinatown that also brought down a state senator. NBC Bay Area first broke the story of Leland Yee's arrest in March 2014. Yee and Chow, leader of the Chee Kung Tong Free Masons in San Francisco, were among 26 defendants charged in the federal criminal complaint.

    Prosecutors say Chow killed a rival in 2006 and took over a Chinese fraternal group that had members that engaged in drug trafficking, money laundering and the sale of stolen cigarettes and top-shelf liquor such as Johnny Walker Blue Label and Hennessey XO.

    Chow, wearing a dark suit and flashing a smile, maintained his innocence during the sentencing hearing while accusing the judge of bias and lead prosecutor William Frentzen of lying.

    "I not apologize to the victims," Chow said in English, while sandwiched between a translator and his defense attorney. "I feel sorry for them because they did not get the right guy. I'm not the man they're looking for. That is a total fail in the justice system."

    Going back and forth with Frentzen for nearly 2.5 hours, Chow stood his grounds about having been wrongfully convicted, going so far as to blame the guilty verdicts on his previous defense counsel Tony Serra and Curtis Briggs. Chow called his attorneys liars, alleging they misrepresented him. 

    Meanwhile, Frentzen stood just a few feet away from Chow, shaking his head, but refusing to mince words.

    Frentzen called Chow a "highly manipulative, constant, perpetual liar."

    "This is a man who is a parasite. He lived off of this organization and other people's criminal activities," the prosecutor said during the sentencing hearing, pointing at Chow.

    A San Francisco Chinatown gangster was sentenced to two life terms in prison. (Aug. 4, 2016)
    Photo credit: Vicki Behringer

    Chow has maintained his innocence, saying he was the victim of unscrupulous prosecutors who were determined to send him to prison. He renounced his drug-dealing and gangster ways after leaving prison in 2003 and turned to meditation and was working on a biography when he was arrested in 2014, he testified during the trial.

    His conviction was largely the work of an undercover FBI agent who posed for years as a foul-mouthed East Coast businessman with mafia ties after infiltrating Chow's fraternal group — among dozens of active tongs, or family associations, in Chinatown.

    The agent testified under a false name that he wined and dined Chow and his associates for years. Chow willingly accepted envelopes stuffed with thousands of dollars in cash for setting up various crimes, the agent said.

    Chow said he was given the money because the agent was showing his respect, not in exchange for criminal activity. Chow presented himself as a reformed gangster who went from dealing drugs and running an escort service to mentoring troubled youth.

    Chow presented himself as a reformed gangster who went from dealing drugs and running an escort service to mentoring troubled youth.

    Rudy Corpuz, who founded an anti-violence youth group and worked with Chow to help inspire children, showed up in court Thursday to support him.

    "I wouldn’t have put my reputation and credibility on the line with the kids I work with, if i didn’t believe he was genuine," Corpuz insisted.

    Alicia Lo, who said she been dating Chow since 2008, echoed a similar sentiment.

    "I totally believe in Raymond," she said.

    Lo said she has talked to Chow every day since he was locked up in 2014, and will continue to tell his story — ddespite the federal government ordering her not to.

    "They don’t want me to produce any book or movie or anything," Lo said. "They feel it's some kind of shell company, which it's not. I just want his story to be told because it's unfair what they’ve done to him."

    The investigation of Chow's tong led to the indictment of more than two dozen people, including former State Sen. Leland Yee — a gun control advocate who acknowledged in a plea deal that he accepted thousands of dollars in bribes and discussed helping an undercover FBI agent buy automatic weapons from the Philippines.

    A federal judge sentenced Yee in February to five years in prison.

    Chow and his defense attorney now have 10 days to file an appeal to oppose the sentence meted out to him.

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