The reputed head of the United Bamboo Gang in Southern California, whose associates were convicted of murdering Chinese-American journalist Henry Liu, has been jailed on charges of kidnaping and attempted extortion.
Chang An-lo, a former Stanford University graduate student known to members of the powerful Taiwan-based gang as White Wolf, was arraigned Monday in Alhambra Municipal Court and held on $250,000 bail in the June 3 abduction of a Monterey Park woman.
Chang, 37, who went public with his theory that his associates killed Liu in Daly City last October at the Los Angeles Times Chang An-lo behest of high Taiwan government officials, is charged with four felony counts.
Monterey Park police, who have closely followed Chang's movements since he opened a restaurant there in 1983, said his arrest represents a potentially serious blow to the crime syndicate in Southern California, which has 40,000 members in Taiwan and has attempted to gain a toehold in California and Texas through gambling, prostitution and extortion.
Also arrested in the case and charged with conspiracy and attempted extortion was Lee Ching-sing, 36, who police say is a part owner of a Duarte hotel and a former underworld figure in Taiwan. Lee is being held on $250,000 bond.
"If we're successful in prosecuting Chang, it will have a tremendous and possibly fatal effect on the Bamboo Gang locally," said Monterey Park Police Chief Jon Elder. "But our past experience tells us that the critical stage is between arrest and trial. That's when the intimidation of witnesses takes place in the Chinese community. That's when we lose a lot of our cases."
Elder said the abducted woman contacted police to report the kidnaping but has expressed great fear since in pressing charges and testifying against Chang. Elder said the woman, a 36-year-old Taiwan native and a secretary at a San Gabriel import business, may be placed in a witness protection program until the trial.
According to court records and interviews with police investigators, the woman was abducted June 3 from her Monterey Park home by three unknown suspects. The suspects also tried to kidnap the woman's 9-year-old son, but the boy fled. Police said the suspects were acting on the instructions of Chang, who had been hired by three Taiwan-based manufacturing firms to collect a $50,000 debt owed by the woman's employer.
Chang, according to police, mistakenly believed that the abducted woman was the girlfriend of her employer, Andrew Chang, and that the 9-year-old boy was the employer's son.
The suspects took the woman to an East Los Angeles hotel room they had rented, Elder said, and released her 90 minutes later after learning that Andrew Chang was neither the woman's boyfriend nor the father of her child.
"They assumed wrong and released the woman as soon as they realized that she and the boy were not the vehicles to extort from the businessman," Elder said. "But after releasing her, Chang An-lo continued to make phone calls in an attempt to collect the debt."
Elder would not say if phone calls by Chang to the abducted woman and her mother on June 3 and 4 were recorded by police. However, court records show that a June 4 meeting between Andrew Chang and Lee at a Chinese restaurant in Monterey Park was taped. At that meeting, Lee allegedly told Andrew Chang, who was wearing a recording device, that he would "personally guarantee no problems" if the debt was satisfied.
Little was known about the United Bamboo Gang and the extent of its extortion and other illegal activities in the United States until the assassination of Liu, an author and journalist with a San Francisco Chinese-language daily. Liu, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen who left his native Taiwan 17 years ago, wrote books and articles revealing long-held secrets about Taiwan's ruling Chiang family.
When he was gunned down in the garage of his Daly City home last Oct. 15, Liu's wife and friends said the murder was ordered by high Taiwan government officials who believed Liu's writings represented a betrayal of the ruling family and Taiwan.
That viewpoint was given credence last January when Chang An-lo turned over a tape recording to the FBI in which Chen Chi-li, the godfather of the Bamboo gang in Taiwan, confessed to murdering Liu and implicated the head of Taiwan's military intelligence network in the plot. Chen, a gang associate and the military intelligence chief were subsequently found guilty of murder during trials in Taiwan.
Chang An-lo, who was not implicated in the Liu murder, told The Times in a February interview that Chen agreed to murder Liu because he believed he was carrying out a patriotic act. He said he had quit the gang in 1983, an assertion disputed by police, to open a restaurant.
However, the restaurant closed last March with Chang contending that Monterey Park police were harassing customers and asking them why they were patronizing an establishment owned by a gang leader.
Chang An-lo was arrested by Immigration and Naturalization officials Thursday, after his student visa had expired. The arrest came moments after Chang had finished testifying before the President's Commission on Organized Crime. He was detained overnight by the INS and arrested Friday by Monterey Park police.