By Paul Elias
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Federal prosecutors said on April 11 that more charges and defendants are expected to be added to a sweeping organized crime and public corruption case centered in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Prosecutor Susan Badger told U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer that additional charges and defendants would be added in the next 90 days.
Some 29 people, including suspended state Sen. Leland Yee, already have been indicted. Yee has pleaded not guilty to bribery and gun charges. The new charges in the case might contain racketeering charges. However, prosecutors didn’t identify who could be charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO.
“Of particular note, the government is continuing to pursue its investigation of RICO violations, as well as additional substantive criminal violations,” prosecutors told the judge in a court filing handed to him during a routine hearing.
Racketeering charges carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and hefty fines and civil penalties, including seizure of property. Such counts enable prosecutors to charge leaders of gangs with crimes they ordered others to carry out.
Yee and his attorney Jim Lassart declined to comment after the hearing in San Francisco federal court. Prosecutors also declined to comment.
Experts and many of the two dozen lawyers involved in the case had expected racketeering charges to be included in the indictment unsealed last week. However, no racketeering charges were filed. The lawyers and the judge have already agreed that not all the defendants will be tried together because of the myriad different and unrelated charges many face.
Lumping 29 people charged with a combined 50 charges in a single indictment was a “ploy to make the indictment seem stronger than it is,” said Curtis Griggs, one of three lawyers representing defendant Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, the leader of a Chinese community organization who is charged with 10 counts of money laundering and receiving stolen goods.
Chow pleaded not guilty to money laundering, receiving stolen property, and other charges at his April 15 arraignment.
‘If not for Yee’
One lawyer for Chow argued that the FBI probe appeared to be failing until a state senator was ensnared in the case.
Veteran San Francisco lawyer Tony Serra said at a news conference that the FBI began to investigate Chow in 2006, but that he wasn’t charged until March 26 and only after state Sen. Yee became a target three years ago.
“If not for Yee,” Serra said, “my client may never have been charged.”
The arrests were the culmination of an FBI investigation started in 2006 after Chow left prison and was elected “dragonhead” of an influential Chinatown community organization. The FBI says undercover agents laundered $2.6 million in cash purportedly garnered through illegal bookmaking through the organization. Undercover agents also allegedly sold purportedly stolen alcohol and cigarettes to Chow’s associates at cut-rate prices. The FBI alleges that Chow received payments from the undercover agents for allegedly facilitating the deals.
But Serra says the investigation appeared to be limping along until Yee’s aide Keith Jackson three years ago began allegedly soliciting bribes for the San Francisco Democrat, even though his client is recorded accepting from undercover agents envelopes stuffed with thousands of dollars of cash on at least eight occasions.
“There is no law against accepting gratuities,” Serra said.
Serra said that “undercover agents sought to induce him, sought to involve him in … criminal activity” for years, but that Chow wasn’t charged until Yee became a target.
“Then they got their celebrity defendant,” Serra said.
Yee is charged with soliciting bribes and conspiracy to connect an undercover FBI agent with an international arms dealer in exchange for contributions to his campaign for California secretary of state. Yee has pleaded not guilty and has dropped out of the secretary of state’s race.
Serra said Chow dedicated his life to helping the Chinese community in San Francisco after he was released from prison in 2003.
“He has committed himself to the youth of this community,” said Eli Crawford, who spoke at the news conference and said he was an ex-convict who is good friends with Chow.
Chow was sentenced to 24 years in prison for racketeering in 2000, but was released early for cooperating in the investigation and conviction of Peter Chong, a reputed Asian gang figure. (end)