VICE: The Strange Tale of ‘Shrimp Boy,’ the Old-School Chinatown Gangster Being Sent Back to Prison

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Kwok Cheung Chow, a.k.a. Raymond Chow, a.k.a Shrimp Boy, at the Ghee Kung Tong headquarters in San Francisco in 2007.

VICE (by Max Cherney):

Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow was convicted by a San Francisco jury Friday on 162 separate charges. Prosecutors painted a picture of him as a dangerous thug who ran a well-oiled crime machine dealing in drugs, illegal booze, and cigarettes—a heartless operator willing to murder in cold blood when necessary. As a result, Chow is likely facing life in prison, though he plans to appeal.

The conviction brought to an end nearly two years of legal wrangling and drama that was extensively followed by the local media. At one point, Chow’s lawyers made headlines by trumpeting court documents they said implicated local government officials in unethical behavior at best and criminal corruption at worst—though none have been formally charged.

Twenty-nine men and women, including Chow, were named in the initial charging documents—a lurid 137-page affidavit that included the now-convicted former State Senator Leland Yee‘s apparent aspirations as an international arms trafficker. The now-disgraced Yee pleaded guilty in 2015 to a single racketeering count centered around his alleged arms business and propensity for taking bribes from government agents. (He’s awaiting sentencing.)

I was closer than most to the case, covering it for a local magazine, a blog, and a weekly newspaper. I first met Chow at the San Francisco county jail, a soul-sucking compound in the belly of the city’s “tech district,” South of Market. The metal stools, thick glass windows, and ongoing clang of gates smashing shut made for onerous circumstances, but Raymond and I continued a dialogue throughout his trial. I always found him irreverent and upbeat—Chow’s longtime girlfriend told me after the verdict that he’s “insanely strong” and “very Buddha-like.”

He was willing to candidly discuss the government’s accusations, proclaiming his innocence and describing Ghee Kung Tong, the local organization the feds say was involved in all sorts of illegal activity, as a “private self-help group.” (Tongs are fraternal organizations for Chinese-Americans and are sometimes accused of being fronts for crime.)

It’s a weird way to get to know another human being, through glass and over a telephone, via conversations the government is likely recording and will almost certainly use against the prisoner if possible. “I don’t want to make friends like this,” Chow told me during one visit. He later offered to cook us dinner when he got out.

I have never shaken Shrimp Boy’s hand, but know more about his life than many of the people I talk with regularly on my current business reporting beat. That might have something to do with the way Chow throws out details of his life in a manner that seems almost reckless: During the trial, he admitted to doing blow, “cut[ting] someone up” at the age of nine (he details the experience in an unpublished memoir he shared with me), buying sex after getting out of prison, and even taking money from undercover FBI agents—though he maintained that he wasn’t taking the dough in return for overseeing criminal behavior of his alleged associates.

Chow has undeniable charisma. He’s big-mouthed and big-hearted and always (if you believe him) looking out for the immigrant community he’s a part of. According to those close to him, the man is broke enough that he had to live with relatives and his girlfriend upon getting out of prison in 2002, his most recent stretch in the federal pen. (Somehow, though, Chow always seemed to wear tailored, two-piece suits on the outside.) If he does have millions of dollars, even his lawyers have no idea where all the cash is—they took on this marquee client pro bono.

Chow is represented by the office of famous defense attorney J. Tony Serra, which is how I started covering him in March 2014. I was lucky: Curtis Briggs, an associate of Serra’s I had previously worked with, was angling to bring Chow on as a client. The man trusted me, and invited me over to listen to the call as he pitched Chow from their offices in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood—a building that reeked of weed. (“We do things differently,” one of Serra’s staffers told me.)

Tony Serra, right, an attorney for Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, pictured at left, listens to speakers at a news conference in San Francisco, Thursday, April 10, 2014. 

I watched and listened as Briggs, a tall, handsome ginger in a suit, reeled in Shrimp Boy. The lawyer worked with a frenetic intensity and passion, and as we waited for the call, Briggs and former-gangster-turned-community-leader Eli Crawford offered their take on the local character.

To hear Chow’s defenders and friends tell it, he’s a community worker of sorts—Crawford described how he and Chow had been giving talks to the city’s troubled youth. In Chow’s memoir, he writes about speaking to high schools, middle schools, and at-risk youth—all to stop kids from following in his footsteps. He also writes that he partnered with a local politician and organized a series of talks about Chinese culture and heritage, for which the city presented him with an award honoring his contribution.

Of course, Chow also has a history of criminal activities including armed robbery, arson, and assault. In his early days, he was a gang enforcer and describes in the book the surgical precision he deployed when hurting enemies. “Beating someone down for a living is a science, ain’t nothing random about it,” Chow writes. “You appraise the target for strengths and weaknesses…. Inflicting injury is a delicate balance, like a recipe you season to taste. You have to be able to evaluate the level of damage you’re doing while you work, and you can get pretty damned good at figuring in the cost of an injury right there, heat of the moment. Most importantly though, you have to know when to stop.”

Later, Chow claims in the unpublished book, he founded a band of home invaders that robbed people all over the Bay Area. He also claimed to have run a brothel and siphoned $250,000 in profits from that operation into a growing coke distribution business back in the 1980s.

But according to Chow and his supporters, that criminal life ended in the 1990s. Indicted on racketeering charges in 1992 and convicted in 1996, Chow was part of a massive case that sent an atomic shockwave through the West Coast crime world. The feds disrupted what might have eventually become the largest heroin trafficking ring in America: The crooks’ plan was to unify disparate gangs and start shipping in smack from the Golden Triangle in huge quantities.

Chow was released from prison in 2003 after cutting a deal with the feds and testifying against his former boss and mentor Peter Chong. (Chow claims in the memoir he had no choice because Chong betrayed him by paying for Chow’s lawyer to take a lavish trip to Macao, sending her off with $60,000 worth of designer handbags—and an agreement to drop Shrimp Boy as a client.)

At the time, Chow recalls in his memoir, the decision to testify against Chong challenged his view of the world. “Some 30 years before, as a child, I’d set out to become a gangster,” he writes. “I sacrificed 20 of those years—the prime of my youth—locked up, a key player in a world that completely vanished beneath my feet. All the gang leaders, dope pushers, scandalous ex-cons and tough guys I’d known were long forgotten and out of the game. Everybody I’d come up with in Chinatown had flipped or cooperated somehow. Once upon a time, they all believed in our code and lived by it. Now every last one had shattered it.”

Those claims may have contributed to Serra taking on Chow as a client, since the attorney doesn’t usually represent people who might be called snitches. “I represent a beautiful man who 12 years ago transcended a lifestyle most people never have the courage to walk away from,” the defense attorney told me when I was writing for San Francisco. He experienced a true epiphany after prison and became a role model for many unfortunates. He has devoted his life since then to bona fide social causes.

As a free man, Chow rubbed shoulders with celebrities, talking loudly and publicly of making a film about his life story. In 2006, after a community leader named Allen Leung was gunned down, Chow took over his post as top boss, or Dragon Head, of the Ghee Kung Tong. (Chow was convicted for arranging Leung’s murder on Friday.)

Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow with a man his girlfriend says was a federal undercover in 2011.

Federal prosecutors vigorously argued during the trial that Chow’s work in his community was nothing more than a disguise, offering him cover to oversee a group of old-school Chinatown thugs and their illicit money-making schemes. The gang allegedly trafficked drugs and untaxed hooch and smokes, plotted murders, laundered money.

For their part, Chow and his lawyers maintain the case is bigger than the one-time crook—and insist the investigation shed light on how power in San Francisco really works. They say Judge Charles Breyer was prejudiced against the defense from the start, chopping down their witness list from 48 to less than ten and refusing to consider evidence that implicated city officials. Briggs called Breyer an “attack dog whose sole job was to guard the elite’s secrets and to usher Chow as quickly as possible to life in prison.”

It took a lot of balls to do this with America watching, but that is an indication of just how comfortable the people he is protecting really are, and it illustrates their time tested trust in him,” Briggs added.

Both Serra and Briggs have vowed to appeal, and Briggs argues they have a good shot, though Friday’s verdict was obviously a resounding win for the prosecutors—a victory observers were pretty much anticipating. As Stanford Law Professor Robert Weisberg told the San Francisco Chronicle, “If you have tapes that are perfectly consistent with informant testimony, then juries convict a great deal of the time.” He added that he expects the verdict to be upheld.

Whatever happens with the appeals, Chow is going to spend years behind bars, an environment he knows well by now. And the networks of local political power and crime he spent much of his life in will hum along without him. Shrimp Boy supposedly got his nickname from his grandmother in Hong Kong, who apparently believed that a pseudonym would protect the short kid from evil spirits.

The Tokyo Reporter: Yakuza accused in ¥1.5 billion fraud extradited from Thailand to Japan

The Tokyo Reporter:

Japanese organized crime member accused of fraud was extradited from from Thailand to Japan on Monday evening, reports Nippon News Network.

Shinichi Nagata, a 33-year-old member of the Sumiyoshi-kai, is scheduled to arrive in Japan on Tuesday. Tokyo Metropolitan Police are then expected to arrest him.

On February 28, Thai police took Nagata into custody in Pattaya, Chonburi Province on charges of overstaying his visa.

Nagata, for whom an arrest warrant had been issued by Tokyo police, is alleged to have swindled a woman in Osaka out of 85 million yen in the sale of fake corporate bonds. The suspect fled to Thailand in November of last year.

Nagata is a part of a crime ring that targets the elderly. Thus far, police have arrested 24 Sumiyoshi-kai members for participation in the fraud, which is believed to have totaled 1.5 billion yen in damage to the victims.

The suspect told TV Asahi that he is not a member of an organized crime group.

Asian restaurant owners targeted in 35 home invasions across 13 North Carolina counties

In North Carolina, authorities are asking for the public’s help in solving nearly three dozen violent home invasion robberies that have targeted Asian restaurant owners across thirteen counties in the last year.

NBC:

Police are making a public plea for tips that could help put a stop to robberies targeting Asian restaurant owners, across the state in 13 counties.

According to the agents with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS), there have been 35 home invasions targeting Asian restaurant owners since December of 2013. The latest robbery occurred two days before Christmas in Wake Forest. Agents said all the robberies occur in the same way.

Three to five armed robbers cover their faces and then attack the owners and their families after they arrive late at night home from the restaurant. Investigators also said they assault the victims to get them to cooperate and then steal their money.

Breakdown of robberies per county:

Wayne County (5), Nash/Edgecombe (5), Wake County (4), Craven County (4), Lenoir County (3), Durham County (2), Johnston County (2), Harnett County (2), Onslow County (2), Pitt County (2), Beaufort County (1), Jones County (1), and Wilson County (1)

Multiple police agencies are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) for tips in solving the violent crimes. Investigators are offering an $8,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the robberies.

If you have any information that could help police 1-800-276-4533.

Kyoto taxi drivers reduce convenience store robberies by 50 percent by doing absolutely nothing

RocketNews 24:

Throughout 2014, Kyoto Prefectural Police began an initiative having taxi drivers and late-night convenience stores work together to reduce incidents of armed robbery. Although still early, the program has so far been rousing success, leading to a 48 percent decrease in convenience store robberies compared to the previous year. They also get extra points for giving it the cool name of “Midnight Defender Strategy”.

■ Vigilance through hanging out

When first coming to Japan, one of the odd things I noticed was that in every convenience store you’d be likely to see a line of people at the magazine rack reading entire manga volumes and issues of Vogue. Where I come from such behavior would cause the clerk to issue a four-letter-word-laden reminder that I was not, in fact, inside a library.

At first I thought the staff in Japan were just too timid to confront these lookie-loos, but I later learned that such free reading was allowed because, in a roundabout way, these people are helping to guard the store by keeping it from emptying out.

However, these readers are usually your average students and office workers who have to go home at some point, leaving the stores without any loiterers to protect them. It’s during this dangerous window of 10:00pm to 7:00am that most convenience store robberies occur.

This is where the humble cab driver comes in.

■ Midnight Defenders

In Kyoto about half of the convenience stores had signed on for the Midnight Defender Strategy. These 500 or so shops hung posters with slogans such as “vigilance strengthening” written on them in their windows. These signs are indicators to taxi drivers that they are allowed to park there as long as they like during breaks. The stores lose a few parking spaces in the process but gain some extra eyes which may be enough to deter a would-be bandit from making their move.

Since the program started in September 2013 the number of armed robberies among participating stores dropped to four compared to 18 in the previous year. On the other hand, the shops which were not in the Midnight Defender Strategy saw an increase in robberies, up from seven to nine incidents compared to the year before. Overall the total number of robberies was nearly halved in the prefecture.

Police are clearly happy with the results and the shops are also pleased with not have knives waved in their faces, with one manager commenting: “Having the drivers around for any amount of time leads to a sense of security. Our midnight staff especially thanks them.”

Taxi drivers are also pleased with the arrangement. “It really helps to have a guaranteed spot to park for breaks,” said one, “and I’m happy to contribute to crime prevention too.”

It appears to be a win-win-win situation for all involved, and if the number of robberies continues to be low we can expect to see the Midnight Defender Strategy pop up in other prefectures across Japan.

Breast milk prostitution raid leads to 15 arrests in China

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FoodBeast:

A prostitution ring was broken up in Beijing resulting in 15 arrests. The gangs running the ring connected men with breastfeeding women via various websites.

Yes, that American Horror Story scene from season 2 has been acted out in real life by about 200 people, but they are not alone. Many people in the wealthier classes in China have taken to breastfeeding as adults due to its believed healing properties.

Breastfeeding services tend to be offered in conjunction with sexual services and women offering both received more consistent work, according to a source for the South China Morning Report.

Xinxinyu, a domestic services company, also provided wet nurses for adults. Owner Lin Jun told the International Business Times that shy customers could drink breast milk from a breast pump, if they so desired.

 

Link

What a North Face jacket means in South Korea

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CNN: 

Consider the North Face jacket.

Originally designed for wilderness travelers, mountain climbers and winter sports athletes, this American outdoor jacket is more akin to a sleeping bag than it is a fashion statement.

Sure, it’s had its share of headlines in its home country, having been the subject of rampant reselling, counterfeiting–even armed robbery.

Recently in Korea, however, the explosive popularity of the puffy down jacket has brought about a string of controversy, throwing a light on the specifics of bullying in Korean schools.

Losers and backbreakers

According to a Korean blog post that made the rounds late last month, North Face jacket wearers can be immediately classified according to the type of North Face jacket they wear. This is apparently a common phenomenon in elementary and middle schools in particular, where the jackets are so popular they have been dubbed “the uniform worn over the uniform,” or “backbreakers,” (thus called for the work put in by parents in order to afford the jackets for their children).

The rankings also specify what type of student should be wearing which specific type of North Face jacket.

At the bottom of the scale is the North Face Nuptse 2, cost ₩250,000 (approximately US$220), which is generally worn by “losers” (찌질이).

Next on the list is the “commonNuptse 1, worn both by “losers” and “gang members” (일진).

Two categories up is the Dry Loft, ₩470,000. “Losers don’t wear the jackets starting from this category because they’re afraid of having them swiped by gang members.

At the top, priced at ₩700,000 is the “rare” Himalayan Down Parka, the most expensive model worn by “the boss.”

As laughable as this list may seem, according to some students it simply puts into words what remains unspoken in school halls.

You can definitely label people according to what North Face jackets they wear,” says Park Jin, 14, who is the class president of his middle school in western Seoul.

“If you wear a really expensive one, then the iljin (gang members) in school come and take it from you.”

In the news

Although the blog post was nationally forwarded, discussed with outrage and amusement, then promptly forgotten in the manner of most issues on the Internet in Korea, the controversy was brought back in the headlines this week when five Busan middle school students went on a North Face jacket rampage, beating four students for their North Face jackets, which they then took from their victims.

I wanted a North Face jacket,” was the explanation that was given to the Busan police by one of the apprehended students.

We’re still not entirely sure why such bland wilderness travel clothing would prompt such devotion and desire, but we’re sure it’ll come to us eventually.

Check out this link:

What a North Face jacket means in South Korea

Link

Street Art: Crime-themed Lego mural causes a storm in Johor Bahru (Malaysia)

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A plan to spruce up the streets of the Malaysian border town of Johor Bahru with street art has come unstuck after authorities took exception to a Lego-themed mural which they believe tarnishes the city’s image.

Johor Bahru City Council will remove a mural painted by Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic following a controversy over one dubbed ‘JB, home of Malaysia’s very own Legoland’, which shows two Lego figurines – a knife-wielding robber lying in wait for a woman carrying a Chanel handbag.

Malaysia’s south has seen a resurgence in street art in recent years, led by artworks in Penang, which have captured the imagination of Malaysians. Street installations by Zacharevic have also appeared in Singapore and Japan this year.

But the Lego artwork portrays a side to the city it would rather keep quiet; Malaysia is also currently grappling with a crime problem following some high profile killings earlier this year. Last month the government stopped providing crime statistics to the UN.

Johor Bahru is the home of Legoland Malaysia and is heavily reliant on its image as an investor-friendly region, although its reputation as a crime capital has dogged it for years, with neighbouring Singapore labelling it as a “cowboy town”.

Zacharevic told local news site Malaysiakini that his public artwork was not meant to be permanent and it was up to the local community to decide what to do with it.

If I react to every criticism I receive, I would have never paint a single painting … I celebrate democracy and embrace pluralism,” he said.

This is how it should be – people publicly, in a civilised manner, discussing what they like and what they don’t like. As an artist I follow my own consciousness and it is up to the rest how they interpret my artwork.”

Democratic Action Party leader Lim Kit Siang said it was ridiculous that the state government had been debating the mural and instead urged them to address the problem of crime rates in the city.

Instead of removing Zachas’ ‘high crime’ mural, it should be allowed to remain to serve as a challenge to all relevant authorities to make JB low-crime and a standing testimony that high crime rate in JB is a “story of the past,” he wrote on his blog.

Zacharevic uploaded a photo of the mural on his Facebook page last week which garnered debate and more than 7,000 ‘Likes’. Local street artists have now added a new figurine of a policeman with handcuffs, presumably as a way to preserve the artwork for a bit longer.

Most Malaysians have been supportive of the artwork, although one critic told Malaysiakini: “It is unbecoming of a good painter to use his God-given talent to showcase something unpleasant about your host when you are a guest.

“There are many beautiful things in Johor Bahru that he can choose to show.”

Check out this link:

Street Art: Crime-themed Lego mural causes a storm in Johor Bahru (Malaysia)

Link

Transformers 4 production in Hong Kong hit for a second time by triads

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For the second time in a week, suspected Hong Kong organized crime syndicates — known better as triads — have targeted the production of “Transformers: Age of Extinction” being filmed in the Chinese territory.

Four men attempted to extort an undisclosed sum of money from a crew member inspecting a rooftop shot location in the district of Kowloon Tuesday, the Hong Kong Police told CNN.

Police arrested and charged one 35-year old man with blackmail but his three partners remain at-large.

The attempted shakedown follows a suspected triad incident October 17 in which two men assaulted Transformers director Michael Bay.

Bay, 48, explained that every vendor that experienced disruptions from filming in the area “got paid a fair price for our inconvenience” but one man “wanted four times that amount” — around $13,000 (100,000 Hong Kong dollars).

I personally told this man and his friends to forget it,” said Bay. “We were not going to let him extort us. He didn’t like that answer.

The man returned an hour later, “carrying a long air-conditioner unit,” added Bay. “He walked right up to me and tried to smack my face, but I ducked threw the air unit on the floor and pushed him away.”

Hong Kong police arrested two brothers in connection with the incident.

In both episodes, triads — known for their dealings in smuggling, prostitution and illegal gambling — are believed to be involved.

The two incidents associated with Transformers are indicative of low-level attempts to extort money from a big production by persons who may be triad members,” said Steve Vickers, former head of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force‘s Criminal Intelligence Bureau and now CEO of Steve Vickers and Associates, a specialist political and corporate risk consultancy.

The separate side of this is that the triad control of the movie industry in Hong Kong is a very complicated issue and has been in place for many years,” added Vickers. “The triads strangle the oxygen out of the local movie scene. They’re not just extorting people for money. It’s control of movies, starlets and distribution.”

In recent years, triad-related crimes in general have been on the rise, according to crime statistics from the Hong Kong Police Force.

For three years in a row, from 2010 to 2012, the number of triad-linked incidents rose nearly 15%. Most recent data for the first half of 2013, however, shows 988 triad-related crimes — the second lowest reported number for the same time period over the past decade.

But “reported crime is not an accurate measure of triad influence,” said Vicker. “Triad related crimes are under reported.”

Check out this link:

Transformers 4 production in Hong Kong hit for a second time by triads