SAN FRANCISCO -- Chinatown figure Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow pleaded not guilty Tuesday in federal court here in connection with a sweeping corruption probe that also ensnared state Sen. Leland Yee.
Chow, who heads a Chinatown organization called the Chee Kung Tong, was charged with eight counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy to sell stolen liquor and one count of trafficking in illegal cigarettes.
Federal prosecutors say Chow, a felon with a criminal history that includes racketeering, is running a front for organized crime. His backers, who have sported bright red "Free Shrimp Boy" T-shirts, claim he is a civic activist who has reformed his ways.
Chow recently added Bay Area trial attorney J. Tony Serra to his team.
Serra wears threadbare suits, has a legendary theatrical courtroom style and is a self-proclaimed "tax protester" who recently served time in federal prison for tax evasion. He has lashed out at prosecutors, calling the case classic "entrapment" and a collection of crimes "fabricated" by the FBI with taxpayer money.
The 1989 motion picture "True Believer," starring James Woods, was based on Serra and his success in winning the acquittal of a Chinatown man charged with murder.
Serra has been asserting his client's innocence on camera and has pledged to take the case to trial and was recently asked by San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross about Serra's conspicuously missing teeth.
His reply: they were knocked out when he was a boxer at Stanford University and his replacements broke a while back when he "took a bite into a piece of rabbit."
So why not get new ones?
"I haven't had time, but to tell you the truth, part of me feels that getting new teeth conflicts with my self-image as a natural man," Serra said. "Besides, it always helps when a lawyer is visually distinct. People will say, 'That Tony Serra may not have all his teeth, but you really ought to hear what he has to say.' "
The federal case involves more than two dozen defendants, among them Yee's political fundraiser, Keith Jackson, who also worked as a consultant to the Chee Kung Tong.
Several, including Yee, have already pleaded not guilty. Yee (D-San Francisco), who has been suspended with pay, faces multiple counts of defrauding citizens of his honest services by allegedly soliciting and taking campaign contributions in exchange for political favors. He is also charged with conspiring to traffic in guns without a license.