Observers have likened the federal case against state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and 25 others to the film "American Hustle," about an FBI Abscam-like sting that used a small-time con man to win corruption convictions against public officials.
I hope it is not like another Hollywood film, "The Departed," about a well-connected FBI informant who was also a homicidal crime boss fashioned after Boston's politically wired gangster Whitey Bulger.
The 137-page criminal complaint against Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, Yee and company on firearms trafficking, drug trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire and fraud charges starts with Chow pleading guilty in 2000 to federal racketeering charges involving murder-for-hire, conspiracy to distribute heroin and arson. Chow also had prior state felony firearms convictions.
His 160-month sentence was reduced after he testified against a confederate. Chow, 54, was released in 2003. So why didn't the feds deport Chow, a Chinese citizen, then? Instead, the government supported his application for a resident visa.
If they had thought Chow was an asset in 2003, surely they reconsidered in 2006 when, according to the complaint, the San Francisco Police Department and FBI surveilled Chow's swearing in as "dragon head" of the Ghee Kung Tong, following the unsolved murder of predecessor Allen Leung. In 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle's Phil Matier and Andy Ross reported that federal officials tried to deport Chow after 2006, but he's still here.
Let me make this clear: The government has yet to prove its case against Chow, who otherwise must be presumed not guilty. But as he awaits approval of an S visa as a government informant -- wags call it the "snitch visa" -- it's hard not to think that a government action could have separated Chow from San Francisco years ago.
So here are the big unanswered questions about Chow's last decade:
--Were the feds snowed, just as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Mayor Ed Lee and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano were snowed when they hailed Chow for leaving a life of crime and turning himself around?
--Or did they know their one-time asset was a liability but, for some dubious reason, thought they could control him? Were the feds uninterested in pursuing Chow unless an investigation -- in this case, a five-year undercover operation -- netted a high-profile arrest?