‘‘In this city, I’m the man that calls the shots.’’ These are the words that Raymond Chow Kwok-cheung a.k.a “Shrimp Boy” said on a segment of the TV series Gangland, pertaining to his status in the streets of San Francisco. He later retracted that statement, claiming that he does not have a firm grasp of the English language and meant to say the statement in the past tense. He claims to have left his life as dragonhead (or leader) of the Chinese Ghee Kung Tong behind. He has tried to live a “normal” life, in contrast to his high-profile criminal past, which has included lengthy prison sentences. However, now, the 5’4″ Shrimp Boy, 55, awaits trail on November 2nd in Federal District Court for the Northern District of California. In March of last year, the feds swarmed the condo of Shrimp Boy’s girlfriend so that they could bring him in on 140 counts, including racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy and trafficking in contraband cigarettes.
Shrimp Boy got his nickname from his beloved grandmother as he was growing up poor in Hong Kong. At the age of nine, he was was put on in the criminal world, by a local gangster who showed him the ropes. He started out moving small packages of heroin for his mentor, but rose in the ranks when he aided his mentor in a fight, assaulting his opponent with a watermelon knife. In 1976, Shrimp Boy’s family moved to San Francisco when he was 16. He made the journey with a letter of recommendation from his mentor, a revered Hong Kong gang leader. He gave that letter to an old man in town who, in turn, introduced Shrimp Boy around town to the who’s who of San Fran’s tong, a Chinese network, often tied to the underworld.
Among his first missions was roughing up a lieutenant of the Hop Sing Tong for La Cosa Nostra. He beat the man severely with a 2×4 at his home, an act which earned Shrimp Boy $3,000. A year later, in 1978, Shrimp Boy caught his first conviction for armed robbery after holding up a gambling den. He was sentenced to 11 years in San Quentin. Inside, he beat a man with a food tray, like a tennis racket Shrimp Boy recalled, ‘‘Backhand, forehand, backhand, forehand.’’ He was tossed in solitary for the assault. He tried to go straight and learn the trade of deep-sea welding, but a prison riot halted those endeavors. As a result, Shrimp Boy started hustling heroin in the prison.
When he was released in 1985, Shrimp Boy had ambitions to go legit and find a job. However, he dove head first into the world of pimping after pulling a group of hookers. The New York Times describes the venture:
He rented a big Victorian house, and within a matter of months, Shrimp Boy says, his escort business was producing more cash than he could handle. He started rolling profits into a variety of enterprises: cocaine distribution, fencing stolen weapons, Rolexes, jewelry and pills. Shrimp Boy talks about that stage of his life as normal people often talk about college: Crazy time! Learned a lot! Needed to grow up and move on.
After leaving the pimp life, Shrimp Boy tried to go legit again with a string of square jobs. However, while working as a security guard at an Oakland casino, he ended up conversing with leader of the Wo Hop To (a Hong Kong gang), Peter Chong. They conspired to unite the heroin trades being proctored on the East and West coasts. When he flew to New York to compete the mission in 1992, he was arrested. The Times reports:
In April 1992, Shrimp Boy flew to New York to meet with gang leaders in Chinatown. Soon after, documents show, he was arrested and charged with 48 counts, among them RICO activities (the acronym refers to charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, murder for hire, cocaine possession, arson, unlicensed firearm sales and transfers and a slew of interstate-commerce crimes — so many charges that the government split the case into two trials. Chong, meanwhile, fled to Hong Kong.
After being ratted out by many of his associates, the first trial, in 1995, ended with Shrimp Boy being found guilty on six counts, resulting in a 24-year sentence. The second trial ended with a hung jury, but the damage had been done. He was sent to serve his time at California’s Federal Correctional Institute, Dublin. While in, he was notified by his tong associates that he’d been given up by those he worked with. He also learned that Chong did him dirty by hiring away his lawyer which was representing him in his second trial. In 2000, Shrimp Boy made “the hardest decision of his life” by abandoning his criminal ethics against snitching. He accepted a plea deal to testify against Chong and others in the underworld in exchange for “a new life under the witness-protection program, an S visa (residence for a witness who assists law enforcement) and release on time served.” However, the government only followed through with the release on time served. he never received a new identity or S visa. Instead, the FBI sent him back to San Francisco with an ankle monitor, a move Shrimp Boy believes they made to bait other criminals they were after. Shrimp Boy made adjustments to be a more upstanding member of society after his release. Among other positive activities, he volunteered with gang prevention organizations and worked with teenagers to deter them from pursuing lives of crime. However, in 2006, the dragonhead of the Ghee Kung Tong was murdered and Shrimp Boy assumed the role whilst living the clean life.
The FBI ran an investigation into Shrimp Boy’s activities from 2008 until 2014 called “Operation Whitesuit.” They sicked an informant, known only as UCE (undercover employee) 4599, on him who Shrimp Boy formed an intimate union with. UCE 4599 posed as an associate of La Cosa Nostra on the come up on the West Coast. According to the affidavit on Shrimp Boy’s reign as dragonhead, his tong “sold drugs, contraband and illegal firearms; distributed drugs; and laundered money.” The prosecution also accuses Shrimp Boy of “greenlighting” murders, though they admit that this is not common in the organization.
Shrimp Boy is currently being held at San Francisco County Jail No. 4, after his most recent arrest. He will be represented during next month’s trial by 80-year-old attorney J. Tony Serra, the man who successfully defended Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton against charges of murdering a prostitute in 1979, and represented “the Hells Angels, Earth First! and the Symbionese Liberation Army, the revolutionary group that kidnapped Patty Hearst.”
“I know I caused the trouble. I would do anything to fix it,” said Shrimp Boy. ‘The guy staying home, spending most of his time with his family — I envy the man like that. I don’t have anything. I’m 55, and I’m still in a county jail.’’
Read Shrimp Boy’s full story, here.