AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Who is Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow? His story is as intriguing as his name suggests. Chow is a notorious San Francisco criminal turned model citizen, until this week when he was arrested again as part of a federal corruption investigation, an investigation that reached all the way to the California State House where a State Senator has been arrested in an FBI sweep in connection with Chow.
Joe Mozingo of the Los Angeles Times joins us now to tell us more. Welcome to the program.
JOE MOZINGO: Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So as we mentioned, this San Francisco Democrat State Senator Leland Yee, he was charged with conspiring to deal firearms for campaign contributions as part of a federal investigation. And Raymond Chow's arrest came as part of that investigation. What is the alleged connection between Yee and Chow?
MOZINGO: Well, the FBI sent in some undercover agents trying to get Chow, who they assume to be still a member of the Chinatown underworld, as he had been for decades since 1976. He was kind of cagey about whether he was really involved in things anymore but he set up introductions with these FBI agents. One of the agents was posing as a member of the Italian mafia, la cosa nostra.
Well, eventually he introduced him to Leland Yee's political consultant who then introduced him to Leland Yee. So there wasn't a direct connection between Raymond Chow and Leland Yee, but then once the feds started talking to Leland Yee, they started getting some good evidence there it looks like.
CORNISH: And you mentioned Chinatown gangsters. Tell us a little bit about Chow's life. How exactly did he rise to become a prominent criminal?
MOZINGO: Well, he came from Hong Kong in 1976. He was 16 and he just became this thug in Chinatown working for one of the local gangs. He rose up. At one point he joined with a member of one of the Chinese triads, which are these agent criminal groups, and tried to take over organized crime throughout the states. He did 25 years in prison for various things, so he has a very deep reputation in Chinatown.
One of the first things, in 1977 he was a -- a rival gang tried to shoot him in a restaurant. They killed five people and Chow escaped unharmed. But after that, you know, Chinatown was seen as a nice safe tourist destination until that point. And suddenly everyone realized that there was this dark underworld going on.
CORNISH: And word about the name "Shrimp Boy"?
MOZINGO: I was only told that when he was born he was just small and his grandmother gave him that name, "Shrimp Boy". He's 5'5" now.
CORNISH: Now, Raymond Chow changed his ways, right, after coming out of prison and had part of this be kind of comeback story and was meeting with high-level politicians. And I heard even received an award.
MOZINGO: Yeah, well, law enforcement never bought this image that he was trying to promote. You know, he did a huge stint for racketeering. When he got out in 2003 he said he was going clean and he started speaking to at-risk youth in schools. And he managed to get this little award from a social services group for, you know, working with these kids.
Well then, with that award he kind of leveraged that to get these plaudits from Senator Dianne Feinstein, the mayor of San Francisco, and others. So they gave him this veil of legitimacy that he really used. But all along he was in that more secretive part of Chinatown. He was still trying to promote this idea that he was, like, the boss.
CORNISH: Now, what does this arrest mean for Leland Yee? What does this mean for Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow?
MOZINGO: Well, for Leland Yee it's hard to imagine how his political career can recover. And it's hard to say how much time he would face. The gun deal never actually happened. It sounded like he couldn't make the deal happen quickly enough so they just moved forward with the setup. But obviously his political career seems to be ruined. But maybe he wants to go into gun running.
And for Raymond Chow, he's been in prison 25 years. He's facing up to 115 years for all these charges. It's hard to tell but obviously his efforts to boost his image and appear to be legitimate are going to be ruined.
CORNISH: Joe Mozingo is a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times. Thanks so much for talking with us.
MOZINGO: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.