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Defense offers glimpse of drama to come in San Francisco's 'Shrimp Boy' trial

Defense offers glimpse of drama to come in San Francisco's 'Shrimp Boy' trial
Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, shown in 2006 in San Francisco's Chinatown. (Associated Press)

In a hint of the drama to come in a federal courtroom here Monday, attorneys for Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, the dragonhead of a Chinatown fraternal organization, have filed a document that lays out the defense strategy in the sweeping racketeering and murder case.

The motion to dismiss "for outrageous government conduct" filed Wednesday is viewed as a long shot at best -- given that opening statements have been scheduled, jurors chosen, and an order regarding their refreshments already signed by U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer.

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Furthermore, legal analysts have emphasized that proving government entrapment in federal court is extremely difficult.

After the defense filed a previous motion to dismiss last August, Assistant U.S. Atty. William Frentzen, the lead prosecutor on the case, called it "a vehicle to create a media splash" and an "outlandish conspiracy theory."

(That motion had argued that Chow was being selectively prosecuted while politicians accused of laundering money were left untouched. Breyer denied it.)

Still, the 49-page document filed this week offers a road map of the theories that Chow's colorful defense team will preview in Monday's opening statements.

At the root of the case, they contend, was an epic "misinterpretation" of the white suit Chow wore to the 2006 funeral of Alan Leung, his predecessor at the helm of the Ghee Kung Tong. (The FBI believed white to be a sign of Chow's "rise to power." Chow, who was recently charged with arranging Leung's killing, contends he wore white as a Chinese symbol of respect.)

"Operation Whitesuit," launched as an investigation of allegations of criminal behavior against Chow, eventually snared 28 other defendants, among them former state Sen. Leland Yee, who pleaded guilty to racketeering in July.

The investigation into Chow, the defense contends, relied on UCE 4599, an undercover agent who, "after failing at legitimately snagging Chow, independently engaged in criminal acts with people who knew Raymond and who were introduced to the undercover agent because the agent insisted on buying expensive dinners and footing the bill for alcoholic drinks for all who would show up."

Detailed excerpts of body wire recordings included in the motion say UCE 4599 got Chow drunk, then pressured him to commit crimes and accept cash. Affidavits submitted by the agent, the defense contends, mischaracterized the encounters.

One, for example, noted only that Chow had said "no, no, no" before taking an envelope full of cash and placing it in his sport coat. The defense, citing the recordings, painted a more detailed scene of the agent's persistence.

"Ya, I'm drunk! No, no, no, no," Chow said, according to the transcript, as "Dave" pressed the envelope on him.

"No, I'm, I'm good. I'm good," he continued.

In another instance, Chow says he is "hella drunk." As he tries to forcibly return another envelope, the agent tells him to "Stop. Stop."

Chow, a convicted-gangster-turned-government-witness in the 1990s, had cooperated fully with his agreement, a document attached to the motion as an exhibit shows. But, his attorneys say, prosecutors backtracked on a promise to get him a new Social Security number, place him in witness protection and secure him a work visa.

Instead, authorities dropped Chow off with an ankle bracelet in the heart of enemy territory in Chinatown, the defense wrote, where he vowed to "strictly avoid engaging in any criminal activity and stay out of trouble with the gangsters that surrounded him.

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"However, he had no choice but to be on the same sidewalks with them at times," the filing states. "After all, he was forced to be in Chinatown against his will."

Chow claims he is reformed and had rebuilt his life as a community activist who was helping Chinatown youth.

Until prosecutors added charges last month that Chow arranged Leung's killing and conspired to kill another man, the case against him and his Chinatown associates focused on money laundering, trafficking of stolen alcohol, weapons and contraband cigarettes, and involvement in a criminal enterprise that committed acts of violence.

A half-dozen of Chow's co-defendants pleaded guilty in September and prosecutors have said two of them will testify at Chow's trial that they heard him order the killings. Another witness, Frentzen said in court, will testify to driving Chow and a "henchman" to Leung's office on the night of his slaying and later watching them disassemble their guns and toss them into the bay, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The defense has called the murder allegations false and will push to show that none of the other criminal concepts came from Chow.

The defendants were supplied by the government "with all the money in the money laundering operation, with all of the alcohol in what would become an illegal alcohol operation, and with all the cigarettes in the cigarette operation," the motion states, and the ideas for all those schemes "originated with UCE 4599."

The defense blasts the more than $2 million spent on the long investigation, noting that taxpayers footed the bill for "the UCE's fake bombshell girlfriend" as well as "flights, liquor bills, transportation, his $20,000 Rolex watch, his fine wardrobe" and even a "a luxury apartment in San Francisco at a time when the investigation would not justify such had the facts been accurately reported by agents to FBI management."

Penning the motion was Curtis L. Briggs, who served jail time a decade ago for his own criminal offenses but, after taking the opportunity to "turn my life around," was admitted to the state bar three years ago, he writes on his website.

He is assisting J. Tony Serra, a high-profile San Francisco defense attorney who has taken a vow of poverty, wears threadbare suits, has no bank account and has served federal time for tax evasion.

Serra has been known to lie on the courtroom floor and quote Shakespeare to jurors.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said the office does not comment on active cases. Prosecutors had not yet filed a response with the court Thursday.

Twitter: @leeromney

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