Chinese organized crime touches Md. Tongs: A 1993 murder and cases in New York and Atlanta show the extent of the secret social organizations.

October 19, 1997|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The tong enforcer from New York had a few swings and handed the baseball bat to the gangster from Philly. And so the beating continued, at 312 Park Ave., under the watchful eye of the boss, a talkative Chinese carryout owner from Timonium whom everyone called Ah Man.

Their victim, Kenny Chung, was bloodied and blind, but he was still alive. As federal court documents describe, death came later, when Chung was driven along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, when his unconscious body was dumped on a grassy embankment, when he was shot four times in the face so that it would take the authorities a year to figure out who he was.

Chung was beaten and murdered on the Fourth of July 1993. In Baltimore.

The death remained a mystery for more than two years. What the Baltimore FBI and Maryland State Police didn't know -- what federal authorities in New York discovered by accident much later -- is this: Chung's murder was an old-fashioned hit, commissioned by the man who ran a secret betting parlor at 312 Park Ave. That parlor and others like them, in cities up and down the East Coast, are run by members of small Chinese secret social organizations known as tongs. Three tongs, the Hung Mun, the Hip Sing and the On Leong, operate in Maryland.

Over the past year, the New York prosecution of Chung's killer and another federal case, in Atlanta, have shed light on the extent to which tong members have criminal operations in Maryland.

Evidence produced at those trials, as well as dozens of interviews by The Sun, shows that in recent years tong members:

Operated illegal gambling houses that cater to Maryland Chinese, including secret casinos at 312 Park Ave. and inside restaurants owned by tong members.

Set up a brothel that occupied a rowhouse in the 1600 block of S. Hanover St. in South Baltimore during 1995 and 1996 before moving, FBI reports say. After The Sun inquired about the brothel this summer, Baltimore police began an investigation, which is continuing.

Brought, with the death of Chung, new tong-related violence to Maryland after decades of quiet. In New York, dozens of murders the past decade have been linked to Chinese organized crime, which is also deeply involved in the heroin trade.

"What we've learned is that these guys are where the mob was in the 1950s," says Jim Deichert, an assistant U.S. attorney in Atlanta who has prosecuted four Maryland tong members over the past year. "The gambling and loan sharking they participate in in Maryland is serious, and the potential for violence is always there. We need to stop them from becoming any more dangerous because in Maryland and in any place you have a growing Chinese population, you have to be concerned about these groups."

In Atlanta, Deichert and the FBI showed how money moved between East Coast tong members, illegal gambling operations

and businesses in Maryland. In New York, police and prosecutors learned the secrets of the Timonium carryout owner named Ah Man. They found that his real name is Yick Man Mui (pronounced 'Moy'), that he ran a secret betting parlor on the second floor of the Hung Mun's clubhouse at 312 Park Ave., and that Chung, a tong member who ran a Washington brothel, had cheated the house out of $50,000.

Despite the revelations in New York and Atlanta, Maryland FBI officials and police have been unable to make cases of their own. Kim Jordan, a supervisory special agent for the Maryland FBI, says evidence of gambling and prostitution here has not been serious enough to "become a priority of the FBI or the U.S. attorney.

"To make any case, you need the cooperation of the Chinese," says Jordan, "and they have refused to report crime or go to American law enforcement."

While the Atlanta and New York probes were reported in the Chinese-language press, Chinese community leaders are either unaware or refuse to acknowledge a problem. Chief among these leaders is Calvin Chin, chairman of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Advisory Committee on Asian-Pacific American Affairs. He insists that the tongs are benevolent social clubs for Chinese men. He initially denied even knowing Mui. But it was Chin who signed a $250,000 bond in fall 1995, when Mui was arrested and charged with Chung's murder.

Told of the comments from Chin and the FBI, Teddy Chan shakes his head. A Hip Sing and Hung Mun elder in Atlanta, he says he has many friends in the Baltimore tong chapters, which each have about three dozen active members, according to tong documents and federal prosecutors. He acknowledges that he owned a share in the South Baltimore brothel.

"Some of our people are doing things wrong in Baltimore," says Chan. "There's problems and crime that need to be prosecuted. The Hip Sing and Hung Mun are active there right now."

They have been here all along.

Park and Mulberry

On Leong tong members once appealed to Baltimore police for protection from the rival Hip Sing when the drug trade turned violent. Baltimore, an On Leong stronghold, worried about Hip Sing enforcers from New York.

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