Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a notorious figure in Chinatown who served time in prison in the late 1990s, was back in court Wednesday after being indicted on federal charges that include money laundering and receiving smuggled cigarettes.
Chow was among 26 defendants in court, including state Sen. Leland Yee and San Francisco political consultant Keith Jackson. The group faces charges ranging from murder for hire and drug trafficking to gun smuggling.
Chow, whose given name is Kwok Cheung but who also goes by “Shrimp Boy,” was an admitted member of a Hong Kong-linked Chinese gang Hop Sing Tong, according to an FBI affidavit released Friday. The document also states that the 54-year-old is the leader or “Dragonhead” of the San Francisco-based fraternal organization Ghee Kung Tong or Chinese Freemasons, through which the government alleges he committed the crimes with which he’s charged.
The Ghee Kung Tong’s Chinatown offices were one of several sites at which the FBI executed numerous arrests and search warrants in the Bay Area on Wednesday morning, FBI Special Agent Michael Gimbel said. Firefighters were seen going inside the Ghee Kung Tong offices with a circular saw and later said they had cracked a safe.
Chow took over as the head of the group in 2006 after the former head of the Masons was killed — an event that drew the attention of federal authorities.
According Elizabeth Falk, Chow’s federal public defender, Chow has not been convicted of any crime since being released from prison.
Chow was sentenced to 25 years in prison for gun charges related to a 1992 indictment that included alleged heroin trafficking and prostitution. Chow was released in 2003 when he testified against an associate.
Since his release, he has touted himself as a reformed man, even penning an autobiography about his years in the underworld. In several interviews after his release from prison, Chow vowed that he was no longer involved in the underworld, pointing out that he speaks to kids so they don’t take the wrong path in life. Chow appeared relaxed, smiling and even laughing, in court as he sat in the middle of the back row in a black coat among 11 other handcuffed defendants.
Chow was given a public defender and Cantonese translation. When asked by Judge Nathanael Cousins if he understood the charges against him, Chow said, “Yes, I understand.”
Chow was born in Hong Kong and is not a U.S. citizen, but lives in San Francisco with his girlfriend of six years, according to Falk. Chow, who is currently monitored by immigration officials with an ankle bracelet, was not granted bail after federal attorneys said he was a flight risk, a danger to the community and had an “extremely violent criminal history.” That history includes assault with a firearm, extortion, arson and murder for hire, the federal attorney noted.
Falk argued that Chow was not a flight risk since he has been fighting to stay in the country and that his parents and two brothers live in San Francisco.
Chow is scheduled to be back in federal court Tuesday for a detention hearing.
The arrests and charges Wednesday stemmed from undercover FBI infiltration of Chow’s group, according to the complaint. With the aid of Chow and others, agents uncovered racketeering activity during a roughly five-year investigation, according to the complaint.