Ed note: Crime Boston broke the news of the indictments yesterday.
Federal indictments against 26 people describe a Chinese-led crime ring that deals drugs, runs gambling dens and brings women up from New York to work in brothels in a city ringleaders feel is full of rich bumpkins ripe for the picking.
According to court documents, Boston was also where ringleaders - some of whom got their start with the old Ping On gang in the 1980s - thought they would be left alone by the law and where one of their pressing concerns was whether their main enforcer was beating up too many people.
Although the ring ran a gambling den on Beach Street in Chinatown, officials say the group's tentacles extended into Allston and Cambridge, where one alleged ring leader ran brothels - as well into as New York's Chinatown and Queens. Many of the alleged participants live in Quincy.
And while most of the indicted people so far - the investigation continues - have Chinese names, some of the people swept up by a task force of federal agents and Boston Police have Vietnamese, Spanish and English surnames. One of the three alleged leaders indicted and arrested last week is John Willis, also known as Bac Guai John, whom an FBI special agent said "is Caucasian, but speaks fluent Cantonese, [and who] has been involved in Asian organized crime since the 1990s."
Using evidence based on wiretaps and a video-equipped informant, a task force of federal, state and local law enforcement officers last week arrested the 26 in raids across the area. In addition to drugs, gambling and prostitution, officials say the gang also helped smuggle illegal aliens into the country.
Authorities say they have so far seized 12 guns, 12,000 Oxycodone pills, 2,000 condoms and $340,000 in cash - some $100,000 of it from a single safety deposit box.
In an affidavit in support of the arrests, FBI Special Agent Thomas Conboy described the workings of the gang's efforts, starting with a gambling den in Chinatown that was initially located at 40 Harrison Ave. and later at 17-23 Beach St. - operating under the fictitious name of a non-existent social club named for a Chinese city:
The 17-23 Beach Street gambling den comprised gaming rooms with tables for playing and betting on high-stakes Asian table games such as pai gau and mahjong, facilities for placing and monitoring illegal sports betting on the Internet.
At times, as many as 50 people placed bets inside the room - after being screened through a locked metal door and two security cameras - and where marijuana and bags of pills were ready for purchase.
Ming Jai, whom the feds say ran the gambling den, was recorded expressing his views on the business climate in Boston, Conboy wrote:
Boston is like the countryside but Boston is quite wealthy ... But these country folks don't know any fucking thing. People like us, who always travel from city to city .... everywhere, everywhere we have our own people in every city. ... Then if something that doesn't seem right, when we do it in Boston. ... Opening a business over here [in Boston] is better. It's different from New York. As long as you don't make any trouble ... they won't bother you. ... As long as you have a license, then they won't come and close you down ... Fuck, we just hang, hang a sign there."
At one point, he boasted of making $60,000 to $70,000 a week. On April 10, he suffered a minor setback - he checked into Boston Medical Center for bypass surgery and installation of two coronary stents - but Conboy's affidavit said he continued to conduct business from his hospital bed. In fact, he only told his closest associates he was even there.
Conboy's affidavit includes sections of a phone call allegedly by Ming Jai to a man who not only had fallen behind on his debts - and who seemed to be avoiding him:
Fuck. You said you would and you said that and you wouldn't answer your phone. I'm really going down to your company. I, you didn't, I already got one person yesterday. Let me tell you that I don't want you to be the second one. I also know your people. You weren't like this. One person came under my knife only yesterday. I don't want you to be the second on. ... Fuck, I'm most fucking mad at people who come to get my fucking money. You, you, [Hin Pau] made it clear. I said I would hold the person down. It's not that I can't get you. ... You, fuck, I don't care how you pay me. Fuck your mother. You enter my Web site to gamble. I saw that. I called you, but you wouldn't answer. But you said you went into a bank and wouldn't answer your phone. Fuck, the moment you say you wouldn't pay me, fuck your mother, just see what I would do.
The gang's alleged muscle was Hin Pau, a skilled fighter with multiple convictions for armed robbery, among other things. In April of this year, an FBI informant overheard an argument among gang leaders at Beach Street over whether Ming Jai was letting too many people with too little money place bets, "that this practice was requiring Hin Pau to have to beat too many people up, which has the adverse effects of scaring gambling customers away and increasing the risk that debtors would go to the police."
Another alleged ringleader, Wei Chen, was charged with operating brothels at 108 2 St., 185 Charles St. and 87 Gore St. in Cambridge and, briefly, one at 171 Everett St. in Allston. He'd have his prostitutes take the train up from New York, then bring them over to one of the brothels for a couple of weeks' worth of work. At one point, he got annoyed at having to operate so secretly, allegedly telling the FBI informant: "I'm just opening a whorehouse. Fuck, what kind of law am I breaking, right? Right? there's nothing."
When he was arrested and the brothels raided, Conboy wrote, authorities found 2,000 condoms and a key to safety deposit box containing exactly $100,000 in bills - many of them $100 bills in bundles still wrapped with bank wrappers.
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