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Twice Burned 

A Hong Kong mob's attempted takeover of Chinatown went up in flames when a gang arsonist snitched. Now Peter Chong, the mob's alleged U.S. leader, is in custody and feeling the heat.

Wednesday, Jun 14 2000
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Page 6 of 8

To make matters worse, the kids were fighting amongst themselves.

"All these guys [the underlings] were supposed to be under the same roof, but there was bad blood going back farther than Peter Chong and his Wo Hop To," says Phillip Wong, a sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department. "There was still a lot of animosity when they saw each other."

Chow, never a paragon of maturity himself, had a difficult time controlling the boys. Chow's inability to maintain order forced Chong to become more involved in the gang's everyday affairs. Once, when an underling shot his comrade in the stomach over an old grudge, Chong stepped in, personally beating up the shooter and giving the victim $3,000 for his suffering, according to the victim's testimony.

"You should withdraw and ponder," he told Chow after another collision within the ranks. "You should ask Keung Kid [another Wo Hop To lieutenant]: 'Hey, why did you play on the small ones last night? They wanted to say hello to you, but you stared at them and ignored them.' Then you see what his explanation is. If you listen, that means you are neutral and want to be fair. You and Keung Kid are both under me right?"

Despite the increased police attention and his organization's internal squabbling, Chong, in an incredible act of hubris, pushed forward with even bigger projects, as if he were still invisible. In Hong Kong, the triads did as they pleased; Chong might have thought things would be the same in San Francisco. It didn't help that his right-hand man, Chow, was still living in 1977, when Asian gangs ran herd through the streets of Chinatown.

But things had, in fact, changed a great deal in the 15-odd years following the Golden Dragon Massacre. The San Francisco Police Department had made a concerted effort to build relationships within the community, with good results. "Restaurant owners, bar owners, local merchants were sick of these gangs wreaking havoc in the neighborhood, and slowly they began to talk," says Foley. "More importantly, we were getting to the kids in the Wo Hop To. As soon as these guys got in trouble, their loyalty to the organization faded quickly."

Chong stubbornly continued laying the groundwork for his Whole Earth Association. This required mending his relationship with Wayne Kwong from Boston. Kwong had been staying at Chong's house and lost many valuable items in the fire after his host failed to mention that he planned to torch the place. Kwong later testified that he had confronted Chong about his loss: "I said that he just -- he did not have a heart for me."

Perhaps as compensation, Chong agreed to send his underlings to assassinate Kwong's chief rival in Boston, according to court records. At the same time, Chow was networking with a gun supplier in Portland, and establishing a heroin connection in Atlantic City. But wherever Chong turned, the police were there.

Three underlings traveled across the country with the intention of killing Wayne Kwong's rival, Bike Ming, in Boston. They planned to spray a restaurant -- where he was eating -- with bullets, in a repeat performance of the Golden Dragon Massacre. But when they arrived they found police officers guarding the place and had to abort the mission, one later testified.

Around the same time, when Chow traveled to Atlantic City to sample a large supply of heroin, he saw cops everywhere, preventing him from completing the deal. He then traveled to New York, where he was arrested in La Guardia Airport for suspected drug dealing while holding $12,000 in cash.

Chow was released and the charges were eventually dropped, but from that point on, he knew something was amiss beyond the wiretaps on his phone. The police seemed to know the organization's every move. A "two-five," or informant, was in their midst, and he was determined to discover who it was. In reality, many of the underlings, caught for petty crimes, were talking to the police by that point, but Chow found his target in a girlfriend of one of the Wo Hop To's Oakland lieutenants.

Madeline Lee, or Mayflower, as she was called by her friends, had known Chow for years through her boyfriend, Tim Huang, who helped establish the Wo Hop To in the Bay Area. She was a pretty young woman, petite, but tough. She and a few associates had performed a series of robberies in Oakland for her boyfriend, turning over the proceeds to the Wo Hop To. Chow became suspicious that Lee was a police informant when she didn't serve any time after she was caught in a robbery attempt, even though she had the same criminal record as her partners. As Chow suspected, Mayflower was, indeed, acting as a confidential informant, and she would pay the price for her indiscretion.

When Mayflower stepped outside the Club Touche in lower Potrero Hill one night, four young men pounced on her. They broke her shoulder and knocked out a few of her teeth before the club's bouncers chased them away, the kids later testified. But while Lee lay bleeding on the pavement, she noted the license plate of the car carrying her attackers away from the scene.

Chow was on the phone the next day with a friend, describing the incident on a recorded call. "Last night they beat up Mayflower ... the bitch who caused all you guys to go insider. ... She was beaten up till she dropped, that Mayflower. I will play her bit by bit."

Meanwhile Lee, not realizing she was now a known snitch, called Chow to tell him she had been assaulted. "Find out who beat me up," she told him. "I saw them driving away with this license plate ...."

About The Author

Matt Isaacs

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