The Tongs originated as Chinese Benevolent Associations on the west coast of the United
States during the Gold Rush era. Although believed
to be offshoots of the Triads, they were formed
primarily as a means of protection from white
racists who periodically raided "Chinatown" areas.
Anti-Chinese riots were common in the late 1800's,
especially in San Francisco and New York City. It
was not unusual, for instance, for groups of Chinese to be murdered while local authorities remained indifferent.
The Tongs exist openly and are based chiefly on business affiliations. Many Triad members emigrating from China joined the Tongs when they arrived in the United States. This is not to say that the five or six Tong organizations that are active today are criminally controlled, but in many cities Tong chapters are certainly influenced by members of Triad groups.
Three of the major Tongs, the Hip Sing Tong, the Tung On Association, and the On Leong Merchants Association, are headquartered in New York City and maintain branches in Philadelphia. These Tongs are involved in illegal gambling activities. As in most Tongs, the gambling is confined to the Tong building or lodge. The Tongs in both cities use Chinese gangs to protect their illegal activities
Chinese street gangs have flourished in the United States since the liberalization of immigration laws in 1965. Some Tongs have used the gangs in extortion, gambling and narcotics operations. The Ghost Shadows gang is under the direction and control of the On Leong Tong in New York City. The gang was organized in 1971 by immigrants from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia. It also has members in Boston, Chicago and New Orleans. There is also a close relationship between the Tong-controlled street gangs in New York City and those in Philadelphia.
There are indications that some members of the Ghost Shadows live in New Jersey. Raymond Chia Chi Cheng (aka Cheng Wei Mun), a New Jersey resident, was indicted on October 30, 1989, on charges by the Federal Organized Crime Strike Force in Boston for bribing an immigration officer and unlawfully obtaining immigration documents. Cheng is an officer in the On Leong Tong and has acted in an advisory capacity to both factions of the Ghost Shadows gang. He gained prominence when former Tong president Eddie Chan vanished and Cheng took control of the Tong operations. He is thought to be heavily involved in narcotics distribution.
Another street gang, the Flying Dragons, reportedly is present in the Hudson County area. The Flying Dragons are affiliated with the Hip Sing Tong, which is headquartered in New York City and is led by Ong Hon Shew (aka Benny Eng, aka Uncle Seven), an 80-year-old immigrant from Harbin, China. The Dragons are also active in Philadelphia. Shew developed the close relationship between the Dragons and the Hip Sing Tong immediately after assuming control of the Tong in 1974. A year later, he and eight others were convicted on a multi-count bribery indictment, and Shew was sentenced to an eight-year prison term.
A member of the Flying Dragons, Ah Thank Lee, was convicted in 1987 for the robbery and murder of Philadelphia restaurant manager Jade Wong when she refused his demand for an extortion payment. Lee was also convicted in another case on extortion charges involving a New York City restaurant.
Another Tong, the Tung On Association, is headed by Clifford Chi Fai Wong, who along with his brother, Steven (Tiger Boy) Wong, also controls the Tung On gang. The gang is involved in smuggling members of the Sun Yee On Triad from Hong Kong into the United States. The Tung On is also believed to be engaged in homicide, gambling and narcotics trafficking and provides protection for the group's illegal casino on Catherine Street in Lower Manhattan. Presently, there are some 30 members of this gang in New York and Philadelphia. Steven Wong was recently convicted of narcotics violations and is awaiting sentencing in New York City. He has previous arrests for rape, kidnapping and illegal firearms possession. This narcotics conviction resulted from a heroin purchase from a member of the 14K Triad in Hong Kong.
Clifford Chi Fai Wong was placed on the exclusion list by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission on October 12, 1989, for his involvement with the Tung On organization. He was previously involved in a bus junket operation which arranged bus transportation for Oriental patrons from New York City to the casinos.
Wong is a close associate of Peter Chan, who also provided junkets to Atlantic City and was arrested for accepting $200,000 in kickbacks from the vice president of marketing at the Trump Casino, a charge of which he was acquitted. Clifford Wong was known to be involved in the booking and managing of oriental entertainers including many who appeared in Atlantic City casinos.
The Fuk Ching, another New York City-based street gang comprised of members whose family origin was Fukien Province has expanded its operations to New Jersey. Ching Kwok, a Chinese businessman who owns and operates restaurants in Hoboken and Englewood, was the victim of this Fukienese extortion ring in September, 1985. The gang threatened to kill the family of Ching Kwok if protection money was not paid. This is a common and under-reported crime against Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants. Kwok broke with tradition by reporting the threat to the police and was immediately given police protection. Four Fuk Ching gang members were arrested.
The Fuk Ching is now under the leadership of Lung Kee Kwok (aka Ah Kay) and has some 60 members engaged in armed robberies, extortion. narcotics and auto theft. The United States Department of Justice indicates that the majority of heroin from Southeast Asia coming into the New York City area is now being smuggled by people from Fukien Province.
One of the most visible Chinese criminal groups in the United States in recent times is the United Bamboo gang, or Chu Lien Pang. This organization was founded in 1957 in Taipei on the Island of Taiwan. Out of about 14,000 members worldwide, several hundred operate in this country. The United Bamboo has aggressively expanded its operations in the United States since 1979 and has initiated new members in New York City, Washington, D.C., Houston and San Francisco. The gang is heavily involved in heroin trafficking, extortion, contract murder and gambling.
In September, 1986, four United Bamboo members were convicted in Manhattan Federal Court and sentenced to long prison terms for racketeering, arms dealing and narcotics trafficking. The drug case involved the importation of more than 600 pounds of Southeast Asian heroin to New York City.
The New York office of the Drug Enforcement Administration believes that the importation of Southeast Asian heroin is now totally controlled by Chinese criminal organizations. Kon Yu-Leung (aka Johnny Kon), a Chinese businessman and importer of furs and watches, was arrested in New York City and charged with importing 500 pounds of heroin into the United States from Southeast Asia. He was also charged with illegally taking more than $1.4 million out of the country in 1987. Kon pleaded guilty in April, 1989, to importing more than 300 pounds of heroin and was sentenced in September, 1989, to 27 years in prison.
Kon Yu-Leung is affiliated with the Wo Saing Wo Triad in Hong Kong and the Big Circle gang in New York City, a relatively new group composed of former Chinese military Red Guards who fled to Taiwan and Hong Kong from the Canton area. The gang's size is unknown but narcotics trafficking and contract murder are its specialty in New York.
As with other organized criminal groups, New York- based Asian organized crime impacts on New Jersey as well. For example, there have also been some large-scale heroin seizures in New Jersey recently involving Chinese residents. Kaw Ting T. (aka Tony Kaw), an Ocean Township, Monmouth County, restaurateur, was arrested in February, 1988, in New York along with three other defendants and charged with importing 165 pounds of pure heroin hidden inside Oriental statues shipped from Thailand. Kaw Ting T. pleaded guilty in March, 1989, to heroin possession and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and fined $500,000. Interestingly, the other defendants from Hong Kong and New York City had $350,000 on deposit at the Golden Nugget and Caesar's casinos in Atlantic City. One of the defendants, Sak Chai Suwannapeng, a major Thai heroin wholesaler, is awaiting extradition from Hong Kong.
Most of the members of the Ghost Shad- ows, Flying Dragons, Fuk Ching, Tung On and other Chinese street gangs in New York are between the ages of 16 and 28. They are recruited mostly from high schools, community colleges and inner city universities. Many are in this country on student visas, with a sizeable number attending classes only long enough to achieve marginally adequate grades.
Other gang members are immigrants who are employed as waiters and kitchen help. For them, membership in a gang is a way to achieve "face" within their ethnic community.