Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cutting off the head of the dragon

Click on the title of this post to view the original newspaper article, together with the accompanying pictures. It includes a fascinating description of the underworld in Chinatown.

Saturday, April 8, 2006
(SF Chronicle)

Allen Leung, a power in the community and named to a city task force by 2 S.F. mayors, was slain 2 months ago -- and no one is talking to police

Jaxon Van Derbeken, Vanessa Hua, Chronicle Staff Writers

Allen Leung's life was one of seeming contradictions. He was known as the "dragon head" -- a leader in the closed, sometimes illicit world of Chinese brotherhoods known as tongs -- but he also played a very public role in San Francisco as a commissioner of the Taiwanese government and a member of a local economic task force.

He once shot and killed an intruder in his home, but he was considered a peacemaker and resolver of disputes within San Francisco's Chinese community.

He had great power and influence among the city's Chinese Americans but at times feared for his life because of an extortion plot.

In February, the 56-year-old native of China was shot to death in his import-export business on Jackson Street. A gunman wearing a mask demanded cash. Leung agreed but was shot anyway as his wife looked on.

Investigators are struggling to unravel Leung's intricate web of relationships, a life that spanned boundaries of East and West, legal andillicit, public and private. They say they have come up against a wall o fsilence, even from Leung's closest associates.

"There are people out there," homicide Inspector Dennis Maffei said, "who know a lot more than they're saying."

Allen Ngai Leung, like many immigrants before him, joined tongs to help him make his way in Chinatown.

The youngest of five children, born in southern China, Leung was raised by his sisters after the Communists jailed his mother and forced his fatherto flee to Hong Kong. Leung went to Hong Kong as a teen and came to the Bay Area in 1971 when he was 20.

Leung honed his English and attended San Francisco State University, where he studied business and philosophy and met his future wife, Jenny. After graduating, he earned a real estate license and became a bilingualcounselor at John O'Connell High School.He helped establish the White Crane martial arts studio with his two brothers, and in 1979 he founded Wonkow International Enterprises Inc., a travel agency on Jackson Street that later became an import-export company.

During these years, he joined the Hop Sing tong and the Chinese Freemasons, two influential brotherhoods in Chinatown.

The tongs grew out of secret societies founded by revolutionaries in 17th century imperial China. In America, they started during California's Gold Rush, helping immigrants endure the hardships of discrimination, and eventually spread to other parts of the country.

Some began offering "protection" to defend interests in gambling, drugs and prostitution. Today, federal authorities still label several tongs,including Hop Sing, as "criminally influenced," meaning some members might engage in illegal activity.

"With any organization, you have a certain percentage of people who may go sideways on you and become organized into criminal activity," said NelsonLowe, a senior FBI agent and expert in Asian organized crime.

"Although they are associated with a tong, they are not representative of what a tong stands for."

By the 1970s, most San Francisco tongs had become social clubs for aging immigrants. But Hop Sing was torn by violence as younger members struggled for power with older leaders.

One of the upstarts was shot to death on a Chinatown street in August1973. Four years later, three teenage gunmen opened fire inside the GoldenDragon restaurant, which is in a Hop Sing-owned building. Five patrons were killed and 11 wounded; the apparent target, a Hop Sing enforcer, was unharmed.

Leung's business was just a couple of blocks from Hop Sing headquarters on Waverly Place.

Leung built his business by trading in shark fin, a Chinese delicacy. On his company Web site, he credited himself with successfully urging theU.S. government to back shark fishing. Eventually, limits were imposed to prevent overfishing.

He opened a Hong Kong office in 1985 and expanded into real estate. He bought homes for himself in the Marina district, Las Vegas and Florida.

At the recommendation of Pius Lee, one of Chinatown's best-known figures, Mayor Willie Brown appointed Leung to the board of the Chinatown Economic Development Group in 1999. Mayor Gavin Newsom would reappoint him.

Taipei made him a volunteer commissioner for the government, the highest honorary position for overseas pro-Taiwan leaders. Even though he never lived in Taiwan, his anti-communist sentiments and those of Hop Sing were well known.

"It's the combination together that made him popular," Lee said, naming organizations Leung was involved in. "People knew about him. He liked to negotiate. For any problem, he said: 'Let's sit down with a cup of coffee.'

"Olivia Leung, one of Leung's three children, said in an interview that her father relished being his own boss because it freed him to be involved in the community.

She said her father encouraged his children to network. "Not only to help people," she said, "but to get to know people in the community and to benefit you."

As Leung's businesses grew, he took a larger role in Hop Sing. In 1990, he became the English secretary, able to conduct tong business and translate Chinese documents into English.

After a period of relative quiet, however, the tong was again in turmoil.

According to federal authorities, Chinese organized crime had taken over Hop Sing and other tongs. Two of the reputed leaders were Peter Chong and Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow.

Chong came to the United States in 1982 ostensibly to promote Chinese opera. Chow, who claimed to have joined Hop Sing soon after arriving in1976 at age 16, would later boast that he controlled all Asian gangs in San Francisco.

"If you are asking me which gang did I join, I did not join any gang,"Chow told a federal prosecutor in 2002. "I owned the gang. ... All those people who were walking the streets of the Bay Area, all of them were controlled by me."

In 1992, authorities indicted Chong, Chow and 25 others for racketeering, saying Hop Sing was involved in everything from underage prostitution to the international heroin trade.

Chong left for Hong Kong before he could be arrested. Caught in Macao, hewas released by Chinese officials skeptical of the U.S. case.

Chow was convicted of gun charges and sent to prison for 25 years to life.

According to the prosecutor in that case, Leung had a minimal role in tong business at the time the two men were in control. With Chow in prison and Chong out of the country, he became a leader. In 1994 he began the first of four stints as Hop Sing president.

He was a "perfect leader" and negotiator who treated even those with whom he disagreed with respect, said the current tong president, Bill Wong.

"Some people don't like him, but he treats them nicely," Wong said in an interview after Leung's death. "He sometimes has a different opinion, but he always tries to compromise. You never hear about him trying to do something in his own interests. He always thinks about the association and the Chinese community.

"Leung was an elder in the tong when, in 2003, Raymond Chow was released from prison. His sentence had been cut in half in 2001 when he agreed to testify against Peter Chong. The government used his testimony to secure Chong's extradition and his conviction for racketeering.

Chow got what many in law enforcement said later was an extraordinary deal: Instead of deporting him, the government supported his applicationfor a resident visa.

The San Francisco police soon concluded that Chow was associating with members of Asian gangs, including those in Hop Sing, in violation of his deal.

"The deal shouldn't have been cut with him," said Oakland police Lt. Harry Hu, who took part in the federal investigation. "He's out, and there's practically no leash on him -- they did a disservice to the community."

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney William Schaefer, who helped arrange Chow's deal, said it was made in part because Chow's testimony cemented Chong as the leader of the group.

"He and Mr. Chong were clearly very, very close," Schaefer said.

Not long after Chow got out of prison, one of his associates approached a longtime friend of Leung and said several young members of Hop Sing wanted money "to do business."

The friend was Jack Lee, now 86, a Hop Sing elder who had fended off achallenge to his leadership during the bloody days of the 1970s. He also co-owned the Golden Dragon.

According to the police, Lee solicited other elders from Hop Sing chapters in Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver and Portland, Ore., to contribute a tota lof $120,000 for what was described as money to start a youth group.

"The elders were skeptical about how the money was to be used," Inspector Jameson Pon, a member of the department's gang task force, said in asubsequent affidavit for search warrants.

As he solicited support for the youth group, Lee was having financialproblems involving his restaurant, which paid rent to the tong.

His business partner was having trouble making the payroll, and Lee was embroiled in a court battle over $450,000 he said his restaurant partner owed him.

Nothing had been decided on the youth group request when, on Feb. 25,2005, someone splattered the headquarters of several Chinatown tongs with red paint. Hop Sing was not hit.

On March 11, Hop Sing unanimously voted down the money proposal. The next day, someone fired rounds into the door of Hop Sing.

Leung became a key source for investigators probing the paint attacks and the shooting. He told FBI Special Agent William Wu about the decision to turn down the request for money. He also told him Chow had shown up at Hop Sing's headquarters in late 2004, demanding $100,000.

Chow -- still on supervised release -- told Wu a very different story. He said Hop Sing board members had approached him and "waanted him to loan-shark the money," according to Inspector Pon's affidavit.

On the same day as the shooting, the police learned from the FBI that immigration authorities had picked up Chow "as a result of the escalating events leading up to the shooting at the Hop Sing tong," Pon said.

Within days, a letter postmarked from San Francisco arrived at Hop Sing, addressed to Leung, Lee and the tong president at the time, Johnny Chiu.

"Someone open fire at your front door, but you're just chicken s -- , no response to it, just keeping your mouth quiet," the letter read. "Having this kind of a leader makes all the tongs lose face. I have a poem to dedicate to you. It says you should be embarrassed for a thousand years and your reputation stink for ten thousand years."

On March 31, Leung approached Pon's partner in the gang task force as the investigator ate lunch in Chinatown. He worried that Chow's emissaries"will try to get him and the board members," Pon said. A week later, Leung told the FBI the same thing.

Federal agents wanted Leung to wear a hidden listening device to further the investigation, but Leung refused. Without direct evidence, police and FBI officials said later, the case died.

Leung's family said he had resumed his normal life. "He wasn't afraid,"said Olivia Leung, 23.

"He said we have to take precautions. But I wouldn't say he was paranoid. There is no point in living in fear."

Leung had already proved that he was no one to be trifled with. One night in April 1997, he opened fire on a burglar who had broken into the family home in the Marina. The man was hit in the chest and died at the scene; the police ruled the shooting justified.

At 4 p.m. on Feb. 27, a man came out of a driving rainstorm into the office on Jackson Street where Leung and his wife were working. He demanded cash and opened fire. The police say it clearly was an execution slaying.

Investigators have not ruled out Chow, who is free as he challenges efforts to deport him, or any of his emissaries as suspects. But it's become clear that others didn't like Leung. Even some of his friends have been reluctant to open up.

Jack Lee was seen eating with Leung at a cafe about an hour before Leung was shot, and the police wanted to talk to him about what he knew.

Before Lee would talk, however, he hired a criminal defense lawyer. Homicide Inspector Dennis Maffei wouldn't say whether Lee has been interviewed.

Lee's lawyer, Garrick Lew, would not comment.

Investigators are looking at Leung's other connections, particularly a brotherhood called the Chee Kung Tong, or Chinese Freemasons.

The tong, one of the oldest in the country, was once powerful, helping to raise money to support Chinese Nationalist Sun Yat-Sen's overthrow of imperial rule. Its headquarters in Chinatown still has a black metal safe that was used to store the money.

Over the years, the tong had evolved into a social organization. "It is no longer a viable group anymore because of its dying and dwindling membership," said Marlon Hom, professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.

Leung assumed a leadership role after two elders of the tong died. He inherited a squabble with members in East Coast chapters.

The dispute began in 2002 when a member of the New York tong, Pang Woon Ng, proclaimed himself a leader in the Chinese Freemasons. Leaders in San Francisco objected and accused Ng of usurping authority. In a civil suit,Ng charged the San Francisco leaders with defamation.

Leung tried to settle the dispute while at the same time paying to fight the lawsuit.

The ill will lingered. The New York tong now is blocking a plan to divideup $1.1 million the Freemason chapters received from the mainland Chinese government as compensation for a temple the government demolished in Shanghai.

Major figures from both Hop Sing and the Chinese Freemasons joined hundreds of mourners at Leung's funeral on March 18 in Chinatown. Fu-MeiChang, a Taiwan cabinet minister, presented a posthumous medal honoring Leung's government service.

Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow was there, stocky with a shaved head, dressed in a white suit, a distinctive figure in a mass of black mourning attire. Hewas one of the few people called by name to bow before Leung's casket, a sign of honor.

Chow also filed up with the Chinese Freemasons. Before the group bowed, he bellowed exhortations in Chinese about heroes and heroism, a traditional Freemason salute. Then, the group bowed in unison.

He was there to pay respects to "Big Brother," he told Chinese reporters. He said he was saddened by Leung's death but declined to comment on the killing.

The police say they're making progress in what they concede is a complex case.

On March 24, investigators searched the offices of both Hop Sing and the Chinese Freemasons in Chinatown. Investigators expect to go to New York incoming weeks. This week they released a composite sketch of the gunman and said the Hop Sing tong is offering a $250,000 reward for help.

"We are looking at every possibility," Inspector Maffei said.

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-----------------------------------------------------------Copyright 2006 SF Chronicle

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