By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Even after Baca was made aware of the controversies, the two continued to enjoy positions of special standing in Baca's administration. Chang helped organize Baca's "honeymoon" junket to Taiwan, on which Chang accompanied the sheriff and his Taipei-born wife. And even after he removed Leung from the Asian Crime Task Force, Baca gave him an unusual -- and, critics charge, backdoor -- promotion to sergeant.
Sheriff Baca refuses to answer any questions regarding Kenny Chang, Eddie Leung, their support of his campaign or their role in his administration, the Weeklywas told by the department's head of media relations, Captain Doyle Campbell. And in what several department insiders called a clear move to intimidate whistle blowers, the department has initiated a criminal investigation into who leaked documents regarding Chang to the press.
The sad irony for L.A. County's Asian-Americans is that what began as an ambitious plan to improve relations with the Sheriff's Department has instead deepened suspicions on both sides, and resulted in a $2.5 million task force that the department's own veteran Asian-crime investigators call "adrift" and "ineffectual."
IN THE STUCCOED, SMOGGY REACHES OF THE San Gabriel Valley, from San Marino southwest through Alhambra, Rosemead, Monterey Park, Hacienda Heights and Diamond Bar, Lee Baca is one of the best-known, best-recognized and most-talked-about politicians. The sheriff may play second fiddle to the chief of the LAPD in the rest of the county, but in the mega mini-malls and neon-lit Hong Kongstyle seafood palaces of L.A. County's sprawling, suburban Chinatown, Baca is something of a star -- especially since his engagement and subsequent marriage to a well-connected Taiwan-born soft-â ware engineer named Carol Chiang. "Chinese people like to have a connection to a candidate," said attorney David Fang, a player in the Taiwanese community and an early Baca supporter. "Son-in-law is a pretty good connection."
As a politically ambitious and farsighted command officer, Baca began reaching out to the Chinese-American community years before he announced his run for sheriff. He was a regular at community festivals and events, making contacts among hundreds of civic and professional associations, and became close friends with former state Treasurer Matt Fong, a relationship that would yield Baca many introductions. "He's been extremely visible in the Asian community from way back," says Judy Chu, mayor of Monterey Park and a longtime Democratic activist.
Baca met his future wife at one such event he attended with Fong, the Chinese Club of San Marino's annual Autumn Club Festival at the Universal Hilton. After emigrating to the U.S. from her native Taipei in 1979, Chiang earned a master's degree in computer engineering from USC, married a man in the computer business and moved into a house in Rancho Palos Verdes. The night she met Lee Baca, she was also one of the most striking women in the room. "Carol looks like a model," recalls one person who was there. "Lee asked her to dance, and that was how the relationship got started."
After they began dating, Chiang introduced Baca to many in the Chinese community, people who became invaluable contacts when he decided to run for sheriff. "Many people know Lee Baca through Carol," said Wen Chang, mayor of Diamond Bar, who himself was introduced to Baca by Carol Chiang.
AMONG THE MOST IMPORTANT CONNECTIONS Baca made in the Chinese community was Kenny Chang. Just about everybody in L.A.'s Taiwanese community knew Chang, it seemed, if not personally then from ads for his insurance business, which ran in the Chinese-language media. He was a regular at some of the Chinese nightclubs along and around Valley Boulevard, "a Hollywood-type guy," said the manager at the Rose Room, a dimly lit karaoke/dance bar with a preponderance of young, pretty Asian women. Chang was an active volunteer at the Hsi Lai Temple, the Hacienda Heights house of worship that figured prominently in investigations of Democratic fund-raising abuses during President Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. He was also something of a Sheriff's Department groupie, going back to his days as a volunteer community adviser.
As Baca's fledgling campaign got under way, Chang became the candidate's de facto press agent in Chinatown, organizing media events, and badgering reporters and editors almost daily to ensure the Baca campaign got extensive coverage. "Kenny and Carol called all the time," grumbled one reporter, "telling us, 'You have to cover this,' 'Lee wants you to be here for this or that event.'"
Chang proved a shrewd and tireless promoter for Baca. When Supervisor Mike Antonovich endorsed 20-year incumbent Sherman Block for re-election, Chang rallied a call-in protest to Antonovich's office. Following Sherman Block's death, when the supervisors proposed that they might select the next sheriff if voters cast their ballots for Block, Chang organized another protest at the County Hall of Administration. Chang ensured that both events received extensive play in the Chinese media.
Chang also became one of Baca's go-to guys for fund-raising. Baca campaign consultant Jorge Flores identified him as one of the top two or three fund-raisers in the campaign. "Kenny was a very, very key person for Lee," agrees George Bao, a reporter for the Chinese Daily Newswho covered the campaign extensively. "He organized many, many fund-raising events for him."