The arrests last week of 12 members of the United Bamboo Gang represents a significant, if not fatal, blow to the crime syndicate’s activities here and elsewhere, police said.
Monterey Park Police Chief Jon Elder said the nationwide sweep of the gang’s leadership, including the arrest of two local members, may signal the end of an international crime element that has plagued his city for three years. A man identified as second in command of the local group was arrested at a Monterey Park apartment early Monday. The other local member, the reputed head of the gang in Southern California, was already in custody in Los Angeles on an unrelated charge.
In the end, Elder said, the group may have become too arrogant for its own good.
“This is a serious, possibly fatal wound to United Bamboo,” Elder said. “If you’re going to be arrogant, you’ve got to be perfect. The Bamboo Gang was sophisticated and intelligent but even they weren’t perfect.”
Monday, after a four-month FBI undercover sting operation, 12 leading members of the crime syndicate in Monterey Park, New York and Houston were arrested and charged with participating in a pattern of racketeering. The pattern allegedly included a a plot to import billions of dollars worth of heroin from Thailand to New York and conspiracy in the 1984 murder of Henry Liu, a Chinese-American journalist, in San Francisco.
In the sting, undercover federal agents pretended to be planning to open a casino in Las Vegas and arranged with the United Bamboo Gang to provide the muscle for their operation, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in New York said. Under the plan, gang members expected to be called upon to murder traditional Mafia mobsters to keep them from encroaching on the casino; in return the gang would receive 10% of the take from a Chinese gambling game called pai gow, the spokesman said.
In the late 1970s, as growing numbers of Chinese continued to immigrate here, Monterey Park suddenly found itself an international city confronting an international crime problem.
The United Bamboo Gang, a powerful Taiwan-based crime syndicate, was one of several underworld groups that had come to Monterey Park seeking to capitalize on the growing number of Chinese-owned businesses.
But police said the Bamboo Gang proved more elusive than the others because its leaders were college graduates and they employed street toughs to do their dirty work, which included extortion from businesses, drug smuggling and prostitution and gambling rackets. Local gang leaders said in interviews in March that police had exaggerated the extent of the group’s illegal activities. They admitted to operating some gambling games, but said they were not involved in drug traffic.
Elder said several lower-ranking members of the group still live in Monterey Park, Las Vegas, Houston and New York. He said police are waiting to see if the remaining members will regroup.
“Right now, they seem to be quiet,” he said. “They could decide to take over the reins anytime, but I think these arrests will have a long-term effect.”
Local members charged in three federal criminal complaints filed last week in New York were Chang An-lo, 37, a former Monterey Park restaurant owner, and Shiang Bao Jing, 38, of Hollywood. Chang, known as White Wolf, is the reputed Southern California head of the United Bamboo Gang. He was specifically charged with racketeering, conspiracy to participate in the murder of Liu and conspiracy to participate in the distribution of heroin.
Chang, a former graduate student at Stanford University and a U.S. resident for about five years, has been in custody since June awaiting trial on unrelated charges of kidnaping and attempted extortion in Monterey Park. An assistant U.S. attorney in New York said Chang is believed to have directed the racketeering and heroin distribution plans from his jail cell.
Shiang, who is known to group members as the “one-legged man” as a result of an accident in which he lost a leg, was charged with racketeering and conspiracy to distribute heroin. The FBI said Shiang ranks second in the local group’s hierarchy, but Elder disputed that, saying Shiang only recently emigrated from Taiwan and was not a formal member of the group.
The federal complaints said that undercover agents, who had infiltrated the gang during the four-month sting operation, secretly recorded a conversation in which Chang was said to be implicated in the murder of Liu, who was fatally shot last October in the garage of his home in the San Francisco suburb of Daly City.
But Assistant U.S. Atty. Anne Vitale in New York declined to comment on the specific nature of Chang’s implication in the murder plot. Chang’s alleged involvement came as a surprise to Liu’s widow and to Daly City police, whose investigation had revealed that three other gang members planned and carried out the murder.
Two of those members, including Chen Chi-li, the international leader of the 40,000-member gang, were convicted in Taiwan of murdering Liu and have been jailed there. The third member, suspected as the triggerman, remains at large.
Helen Liu said after receiving a phone call from Chang An-lo last week from his jail cell that she did not believe the local gang leader was involved in the murder plot
“He said he wanted me to trust him. He said he had nothing to do with Henry’s murder,” Liu said in a telephone interview from her Daly City home. “I feel very strange. I don’t think he had anything to do with it.”
Helen Liu said she and Chang have met once and have had several conversations in which the gang leader has told her of his innocence. During a public meeting last March in Monterey Park attended by Liu, Chang stood up and publicly apologized for the role of his “brothers” (fellow gang members) in the murder.
In several interviews with The Times, Chang admitted that the killers stayed at his home in the weeks before the murder. But he insisted that if he had known of the plot, he would have stopped it. Chang cooperated with Daly City police and the FBI and at one point turned over a crucial tape recording given to him by Chen Chi-li, in which Chen Chi-li confessed to the murder and implicated high Taiwan military intelligence officers in the plot.
In the confession, made shortly after the murder, Chen Chi-li alleged that the intelligence officers wanted Liu murdered because of his many books and articles critical of Taiwan’s ruling family. The officers also were later tried and convicted in Taiwan.
“I feel Chang An-lo was very sincere in trying to help the case,” Liu said. “It really shocked me when they said he was involved. I don’t think I believe it.”
Capt. Tom Reese, who headed Daly City’s investigation, said his detectives believed that Chang An-lo probably had prior knowledge of the Liu murder. “But we could never determine to what extent he knew or was involved in the plot,” Reese said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Vitale said the sting operation was highlighted by the initiation of two undercover FBI agents into the mysterious crime group. Vitale declined to comment on the details of the initiation rite. Chang and other gang members have told The Times that the initiation consists of an oath in which the blood of prospective members is mixed in alcohol and drunk by all.