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
At the time Baca was informed by the FBI of their continuing interest in one of his top supporters, Chang's schedule was jammed with projects for Baca. He helped to handle arrangements for Carol Chiang's May wedding to Baca. "If you wanted an invitation to the wedding," said one attendee, "Kenny Chang was the guy to see." And when Baca was invited to Taiwan by government officials there, Chang worked his contacts to help arrange an expense-paid trip for the sheriff and his new bride. It was portrayed as an effort to coordinate the fight against organized crime on both sides of the Pacific, but wags in the press called it a "honeymoon junket."
Chang accompanied the official delegation when they departed on June 6, but already his clout was flagging. A case in point: Baca and his party turned down Chang's invitation to visit the Hsi Lai Temple's headquarters outside Taipei, according to Oliver Liao, special assistant to the ambassador of the Taipei Cultural and Economic Office. "Kenny lost a lot of face with people in Taiwan," says another source familiar with the trip.
He was also having trouble with some of his colleagues on the LACASA board, who were concerned to what extent Chang had been using his relationship with Baca to further his own interests, according to a source in the organization. "After you work with [people] for a while, you get to know their m.o., how they operate," the source said. "Kenny's an insurance agent. For him this is a way to get new business, by being a friend of the sheriff."
On July 27, Chang submitted a letter of resignation to LACASA president Joseph Tseng. "Kenny wants to spend more time with his family," Tseng said in an interview. According to another source in the organization, Chang was forced out. "It got to a point where it didn't make any sense for him to stay," the source said. "He knew they wanted him to leave." On the day Chang resigned, Tseng paged Lieutenant O'Brien to share the news, and a week later O'Brien held his first meeting with the advisory group.
Chang kept up a good face, talking up Baca's outreach, still selling the program, even though he was on the outs. "We are not scared for the police now," he said when contacted by phone. "This is a big change. It's good for everybody. For everybody, it is good news." Privately, said a source close to Chang, he feels embittered by the whole experience and told an associate he felt that Baca, now a powerful incumbent who no longer needed Chang's fund-raising, had abandoned him. "Kenny is very sad now. He feels a lot of disappointment," said a source close to Chang. "He feels now like Maria Hsia and John Huang and Johnny Chung," a reference to figures in the 1996 Democratic fund-raising scandal. "Look at what happened to them. They all helped raise money when politicians asked them. Where are those politicians now?"
On the day Kenny Chang resigned from LACASA in late July, Joseph Tseng paged O'Brien to share the news. A week later, O'Brien held his first meeting with the organization -- more than six months after Baca had promised his department would work closely with them. Both Tseng and O'Brien talked in interviews of making a fresh start, but the high-minded expectations that greeted Baca's Asian-crime initiative have been considerably muted.
For all the hoopla, it is by no means clear that Asian-Americans in the San Gabriel Valley are any better served by the new task force. Where the original Asian crime squad specialized in experienced detectives making major cases against organized crime, in the new unit, staffing priority was given to bilingual, bicultural deputies, with little consideration given to investigative experience. As a result, many of those recruited for the new unit needed training in basic detective work. One day last month when a reporter visited the unit's headquarters, investigators were attending classes on how to write search warrants. Three detectives from the old organized-crime unit were assigned on a temporary basis to show the new investigators the ropes, but O'Brien concedes that his team remains a long way from being able to take on the complex cases -- kidnappings, for instance -- that the old unit handled on a regular basis.
Kenny Chang himself is keeping a very low profile these days. When a reporter approached his office in a shopping center on Hacienda Boulevard south of the 60 freeway, Chang turned down the nameplate on his desk. He didn't want to talk about his relationship with Baca, the campaign, or the LACASA task force, behind which he was a driving force. "At one time I was very active in the community. I opened my heart to the community" is all he'd say. "Now I just have to take care of my business and be 100 percent insurance agent." He repeated this several times: "100 percent insurance agent."
"Lee has a lot, a lot of friends," he said. "I am just one of those friends. I am just small potatoes."
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