SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A lawyer for a key figure in a sweeping investigation of organized crime in San Francisco's Chinatown argued Thursday that the FBI probe appeared to be failing until a state senator was ensnared in the case.
Veteran San Francisco lawyer Tony Serra argued at a news conference that the FBI began to investigate his client Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow in 2006, but that he wasn't charged until March 26 and only after state Sen. Leland Yee became a target three years ago.
“If not for Yee,” Serra said, “my client may never have been charged.”
Chow is charged with 10 counts of money laundering and receiving stolen property and was arrested along with Yee and 19 others on March 26 during coordinated raids throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
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.
FBI spokesman Peter Lee declined comment.
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 will plead not guilty to money laundering, receiving stolen property and other charges when he is arraigned Tuesday.
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.