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
ON HAND AT MANY OF THOSE EVENTS, ACcording to Bao, was an ambitious, politically minded deputy sheriff, a close friend of Chang named Eddie Leung. Leung was the best-known Chinese-American officer in the Sheriff's Department, with scores of contacts throughout the San Gabriel Valley, and he didn't shrink at lending that clout to the Baca campaign. According to Bao, Leung and Chang worked closely together marshaling support for the campaign.
It is difficult to understate the importance to the Baca campaign of fund-raising in the Chinese community. Baca's bid was considered a long shot, and he was shut out of campaign financing by many establishment insiders, who were loath to put their money up against a solid incumbent like Block. Instead, Baca had to rely on nontraditional sources of campaign cash, especially among L.A.'s minority communities, including Armenians, Latinos and, especially, Chinese. As Bill Carrick, the lead consultant for Sheriff Block, put it, "Early Chinese money made Baca's candidacy credible."
Jorge Flores called fund-raising by Chang and other Asian-Americans one of the "cornerstones" of the campaign. "Whenever the campaign needed an infusion of money, say, just before a filing deadline," Flores said, "the Asian community came through for us." Chang, Flores said, was at the forefront of that effort.
On October 14, 1998, with only weeks to go in the campaign and polls showing a dead heat, Chang co-hosted a massive fund-raiser. It was one of the biggest political events of the year in the Chinese community, with more than 500 people packed into the Welcome Seafood Restaurant in Rowland Heights. "I'm so pleased that so many people in the Chinese community are supporting me," an ebullient Baca told the crowd. He promised better service for the Chinese community, and to hire 100 new bilingual employees. "Once I become head of the Sheriff's Department, whatever problem the Chinese community has . . . I will help you solve it."
By the end of the night, the Baca campaign had collected upward of $30,000, enough to carry itself over the finish line.
EXACTLY WHERE BACA'S MONEY WAS COMING from troubled some detectives in his own department. Among Baca's contributors were several nightclubs and hostess bars that were well-known to Asian-crime investigators inside and outside the department as hangouts for alleged Asian-organized-crime members.
One was the Turning Point on Valley Boulevard, whose owner, an ammunition manufacturer named Johnny Chiang (no relation to Carol), complained in an interview that "the FBI has been watching me for 15 years." On May 12, the Turning Point gave $1,000 to the Baca campaign.
Another was the Nice Café in Arcadia, scene of a late-December 1997 gangland-style murder, whose owner contributed $800 to the Baca campaign in April 1998.
Then there was the Chef's Hat, a popular karaoke bar on Rosemead Boulevard, which has a metal detector inside the front door because, as owner Suling Wang put it, "We are afraid of the Vietnamese gangs. They like to shoot." Wang didn't think Baca had a chance of winning the election, but he bought $500 worth of tickets to the October 14 fund-raiser from Kenny Chang and an associate. "I want to help my friends because they are customers," Wang said in an interview. "If I said no, maybe they wouldn't come back again." Also buying tickets to the October 14 fund-raiser was another nightclub Chang frequented, called the Rose Room and located on Valley Boulevard. Among the club's other patrons was a Vietnamese heroin trafficker named Keith Tang, whose 1994 assistance helped authorities make cases against leaders of the Wah Ching, United Bamboo and other Asian gangs.
None of the contributions was illegal, and none of the club owners has been convicted of a crime, according to law-enforcement sources. But they raised eyebrows in the local law-enforcement community, and questions as to exactly whom Baca had indebted himself to in the campaign. "I would be concerned by that list if it was my department," said a veteran Asian-crime investigator at the LAPD. "There is always a fear of being compromised."
Baca's forays into Chinatown for campaign cash had by this time also come to the attention of Kerry Smith, head of the FBI's local Asian-crime detail. Smith saw Kenny Chang's name listed as sponsor in an advertisement in the Chinese Daily Newsfor the October 14 fund-raiser.
The name was familiar to Smith. Four years earlier, Chang had surfaced in an investigation, headed by Smith, into a massive international bookmaking ring which, Smith said, had fueled an "epidemic of sports betting in the San Gabriel Valley" in the mid-1990s. According to several detectives who worked with Smith on the case, some members of the ring had ties to both the Wah Ching gang, Southern California's largest Asian crime syndicate, and United Bamboo, Taiwan's largest criminal "triad."
On September 20, 1994, an FBI wiretap intercepted a conversation between Chang and one Jaw Yung "Paul" Fang, a massage-parlor operator and a leading figure in the ring. According to an FBI report of the conversation, Chang bragged to the bookie about his relationship with the Sheriff's Department, and mentioned giving boxes of "moon cakes" to members of the Sheriff's Asian Crime Unit during the mid-Autumn festival, a traditional time of gift-giving in the Chinese community. Chang "wanted to make himself look important," the report stated. A government source who heard a tape of the conversation agreed: "He was insinuating that he had the department in his pocket."