By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Among several veteran detectives interviewed for this article, Leung's plan for staffing the unit with predominantly Asian deputies was viewed as wrong-headed and setting a bad precedent. "That's a very bigoted way to look at things," said one veteran minority officer. "In other words, only black officers can work black gangs, only white officers can work white gangs, and only Mexican officers can work Mexican gangs. Just because you are Asian doesn't mean you know how to work Asian gangs." Indeed, at the time, the department's existing Asian Organized Crime Unit -- which had been recognized internationally as a topnotch outfit -- was staffed entirely by white, non-Asian-language-speaking investigators.
But in a politically adept move, Leung enlisted the help of the then-head of that unit, Sergeant Thomas Budds, to develop a management structure for his plan. Technically, Leung, with the rank of deputy, could not lead the task force -- that job would go to another Baca loyalist, Lieutenant Michael O'Brien. But it was made clear to Budds that Eddie "was going to be [the sheriff's] go-to guy on what to do in the Asian community."
WHAT MADE LEUNG'S CENTRAL ROLE IN the department's Asian unit even more controversial was the fact that he had interviewed for an assignment with the unit several years earlier, and been turned down. "Eddie Leung came in here and tried to get into Asians," recalls one veteran detective who worked closely with the squad. "He tried real hard. But he had baggage."
Leung's "baggage" went back to his early years in the department. Reports had circulated among local Asian-crime investigators that Leung associated with certain members of the Wah Ching gang, in particular the reputed head of the organization, Joe Hoe "Tony" Young, a.k.a. Tony "Sweet Plum" Young.
In 1990, one Sheriff's detective who spoke on condition of anonymity was sufficiently troubled by information he received regarding Leung's associations and actions that he referred it to Internal Affairs. Nothing came of the probe, according to the detective.
Four years later, another department source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, was told by an informant for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that Leung had been a guest of Tony Young's at a Chinese-music concert, and afterward at a dinner banquet. The source said he passed the information on to his superiors and heard nothing more of it.
Leung didn't deny knowing Tony Young to several department sources interviewed for this article, but he disputed the significance of the association. He told Sergeant Budds, for instance, that he had attended school with Tony Young and other individuals who later got involved in the criminal associations that wove themselves deep into the fabric of the Chinese community. He still ran into them from time to time in the community, but he had no dealings with them. Period. Budds, who had run the Asian-organized-crime unit since its inception in 1991, looked into some allegations himself -- including the one that Leung attended a concert with Tony Young -- and was inclined to believe Leung.
"I'm not sure there isn't a stereotypical prejudice out there that everyone who is Asian is a crook," said Budds. "We used Eddie as an interpreter in some of our most confidential investigations, and we were never compromised." Leung told the Weekly that he had been barred by the department from talking about these issues with the press. However, he intimated that he believed members of the department were trying to smear him. "It's been going on for 15 years," he said.
The reputation, in any case, followed Leung around, and it made for some awkward introductions when Leung joined the new Asian Crime Task Force. "You've probably heard some stories about me," he told detective Mike Soop, a veteran Asian-crime investigator with whom Leung was initially partnered when he joined the unit.
Soop had, in fact -- and only a few weeks before. An informant had told him that he knew the new guy coming in to the unit, and that he was "dirty."
"Let's go talk to him," Leung said. Soop was impressed as he watched Leung confront the informant with the allegations and challenge him to come up with proof. In the end, the informant admitted he "didn't have anything on him except rumors," Soop said.
THE RUMORS ALSO DIDN'T trouble Lieutenant Mike O'Brien, whom Baca brought in to manage the new unit. "Eddie told me himself," O'Brien recalled, "'Other law-enforcement agencies are not going to want to work with you because of what they perceive to be my reputation.'" To O'Brien, the allegations regarding Tony Young were meaningless. He had so little experience in the world of Asian organized crime, as he admitted in an interview, that he had never even heard of Tony Young, Southern California's most notorious alleged Asian-organized-crime figure.
What did trouble O'Brien, however, was Leung's friendship with Kenny Chang. O'Brien knew Chang, and he didn't like him. The two had met before, five years earlier, when O'Brien was a lieutenant in the Community Relations Office at Industry Station. Chang, a volunteer "community adviser," had asked O'Brien to meet a business owner who was being extorted. O'Brien agreed, and was surprised when Chang led him to an area hostess bar. Already, O'Brien says, he was out of his element: "I go in there, walk in, it's dark. A lady comes up, hugs Mr. Chang, and he points to me and says, 'Hug him.' And she hugs me. And he hands me a credit-type card, a VIP card, and he says, 'Here, she is yours.' And I tell you, I turned around and ran out of there like a scalded rabbit."
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