Shrimp Boy was providing a community service.
The FBI used millions of dollars, liquor and cigarettes seized in other cases and more than a dozen undercover operatives in an elaborate, seven-year sting operation targeting a San Francisco Chinatown association thought to be a front for a notorious organized crime syndicate.
The agents, posing as honest businessmen and a Mafia figure, spent freely and aggressively offered their targets criminal schemes, leading to the indictment of 29 people – including state Senator Leland Yee – on charges that included money laundering, public corruption and gun trafficking.
J. Tony Serra, a long-time defense attorney, is representing Raymond ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow, the head of a Chinatown tong, which the FBI says became a front for organized crime.
Serra said much of the government’s case against Chow, Yee and the others is being driven by FBI operatives who were loaded with millions of dollars, were ‘wining and dining’ their targets with $250 shots of liquor at high-end restaurants and were making persistent offers to break the law.
Serra said the $58,000 Chow received from undercover agents were legal gratuities, not kickbacks for illegal activity. Chow has pleaded not guilty.
‘The undercover agents sought to induce him, sought to involve him, sought to catch him in some overt act that represented criminal activity,’ Serra said.
Garrick Lew, who represents another defendant in the San Francisco case, complained in court that FBI agents significantly overpaid thousands of dollars each for guns worth a few hundred dollars apiece allegedly sold by his client, Rinn Rouen, who has pleaded not guilty to gun trafficking and murder for hire charges.
‘The FBI was throwing money at people,’ said Lew.
FBI spokesman Peter Lee declined to comment.
The agents’ behavior has already become a central issue in the month-old case, with defense lawyers arguing that the FBI entrapped otherwise honest people by luring them into criminal schemes hatched by the government.
It’s an argument numerous suspected terrorists, politicians and others have made when caught in a government sting.
But legal experts say the entrapment defense rarely works. Sting targets have to prove much more than simply the government made them do it. They have to show they weren’t predisposed to committing the criminal acts proposed by undercover agents.