Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow sentenced to life in prison

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU & AP) — A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a San Francisco Chinatown gang leader known as "Shrimp Boy" to two life sentences — one for killing a rival — in a wide-ranging organized crime investigation that also brought down a state senator.

Raymond Chow, 56, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer, who said Chow's claim during 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.

Jurors convicted Chow of murder and an additional 161 charges, including racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with a second slaying.

Prosecutors say Chow killed a rival in 2006 and took over a Chinese fraternal group with 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. The life sentence was mandatory for the 2006 murder.

Wearing dapper suits and a beaming smile, Chow had presented himself during his trial as a reformed gangster who went from dealing drugs and running an escort service to mentoring troubled youth.

He spoke for more than an hour at the sentencing hearing. He maintained his innocence while accusing lead prosecutor William Frentzen of lying, a former defense attorney of falling asleep during a previous court proceeding, and the judge of bias.

"I not apologize to the victims," Chow, who used a translator during the trial, said in English. "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."

Prosecutors called for the harshest sentence, claiming Chow was unremorseful, especially during post-trial television interviews, the first of which was done with KTVU.

"People think look at me I'm a bad person. Hey, you know what? They just need to get to know me," he said to KTVU in January 2016.

"This is not how justice should work," said Alicia Lo, Chow's longtime girlfriend, to reporters after the sentencing. It was the first time Lo had spoken publicly about Chow and their 8-year relationship. She said Chow will fight and appeal.

"I believe in his principle. He is one the strongest people I've ever known. To be able to turn your life around like that, not many people can do that," she said.

Frentzen stood just a few feet away from Chow, shaking his head as Chow addressed him directly at times.

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.

After leaving prison in 2003, Chow said he renounced his gangster ways and turned to mentoring youth. He started volunteering for a non-profit called United Playaz in 2010.

"He was sincere and passionate about helping the community out (and) not just Chinese kids," said an official with the group. "He dealt wth Filipinos, Latinos, Samoans, blacks, whites. He really made kids want to make better choices in life."

Chow has maintained his innocence saying he was the target of unscrupulous FBI agents who were determined to send him to prison. Agents said they handed Chow envelopes full of cash, worth $60,000, which Chow always accepted.

Lo said Chow took the money because, "He had no money and the money he got from the agents, he thought was out of respect. Because many people would give him money as we walked around Chinatown just out of respect, because of what he's gone through."

Chow must also pay the government more than $16,000 and more than $15,000 to the Leung family to cover funeral expenses. Despite the sentence, she said she and Chow are extremely positive. 

They believe Chow's former attorneys quarreled with the judge too much and it was a case of egos that led to the lengthy sentence. 

Undercover sting

Chow's 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.

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.

KTVU reporter Tara Moriarty contributed to this report.