Lawyer: Racketeering defendant Chow changed his life

A prime defendant in a San Francisco racketeering case ordered the killing of a rival before taking over his organization in Chinatown and engaging in money laundering and trafficking 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 investigation that led to the conviction of former state Sen. Leland Yee on a racketeering charge.

Chow pleaded guilty to racketeering in 2000 amid accusations that included heroin and cocaine trafficking, attempted murder and robbery, according to an FBI affidavit in Chow's current case.

But Serra said Chow, who will testify in his own defense, reformed and was looking forward to a lucrative book deal about his life.

"My client is not, and they will never show he is anything analogous to a godfather," Serra said.

Chow was the focus of a lengthy investigation that included an FBI agent posing as a member of the mafia who plied his targets in Chinatown — one of San Francisco's most popular tourist attractions — with fancy meals, liquor and cash. More than two dozen people were indicted last year as part of the probe.

Hasib called Chow the sun at the center of a criminal universe and accused him of repeatedly accepting money from the undercover FBI agent.

Serra said the FBI agent instigated the crimes for which people were later arrested. He said his client was broke after leaving prison, and the agent forced money on him, often when Chow was drunk.

Hasib said 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.

Federal agents say one of Chow's associates was Keith Jackson, a former San Francisco school board president who raised money for Yee's campaigns for San Francisco mayor and 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.

Judge Charles Breyer said Chow's trial could last until February.