Nov 25, 2015 · 5 minutes

“He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”

–Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer

“I love and respect you and appreciate everything […] I can’t tell you how much respect and love I have for you. I hope you know that.”

– FBI agent UCE 4599 to Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow

Yesterday the trial of Raymond Chow adjourned early on account of an under-the-weather lawyer, and will not be back in session until December 7th.

The jury has heard five straight days of testimony from UCE 4599, the undercover FBI agent known from 2010-2014, in certain seamy circles, as David Jordan – connected East Coast mafioso and head of (fictitious) private wealth management firm Madison International. The bulk of this testimony has consisted of hours of playback of surreptitious audio recordings gathered by the agent. The prosecution has rested and the cross examination of UCE 4599 has just begun … but the damn Pilgrims had to throw a cornucopia into the works.

All that tape. Hundreds of hours, recorded in the city’s night clubs and restaurants, in cars and massage parlours, karaoke clubs and hotel rooms. Most of it involves crimes the agent was setting up (and, for the most part, instigating) with people Chow introduced him to. Selling untaxed cigarettes and scotch, laundering money – all of the cigarettes, liquor and most of the money provided by the FBI.

The public and the press have been confined to a separate room, our view of the proceedings restricted to a camera focused on Judge Charles Breyer and another on the lawyers. This because the agent’s identity is still being protected, though his photo is available on the web and has been circulated in the media, and he has now testified that he is no longer undercover. The defense has issued a motion to allow the agent’s identity to be revealed – but the FBI has issued a sealed response as to why this can’t happen, and the Judge seems to be favoring it. Earlier in motion hearings Breyer mysteriously cited “national security” as his reasoning.

From the media room there is no way to see the jury, and to confirm that their heads are spinning on their shoulders. We just have to assume.

The only point of reference that most people have for the underworld being aired in this case comes from Hollywood. Agent UCE 4599 himself testified that in preparing for his role he watched the Godfathers 1 & 2, and the Departed. The Hollywood circle may close: at least one regular trial attendee is working on a screenplay.

UCE 4599 was the primary undercover working on infiltrating the Chee Kung Tong’s criminal shadow organization while at the same time Shrimp Boy was leading community outreach, doing youth gang interventions and receiving commendations from Dianne Feinstein and Mayor Ed Lee for his “tenacity and tireless dedication to the community.”

Throughout the tapes Shrimp Boy tells ‘Dave Jordan’ that he wants nothing to do with the crimes the agent was committing, but he also takes the agent’s kickback money and introduces him into the proper channels. He’s either a somewhat-dumb crime boss, or a gangster trying to make good in the face of myriad criminal inducements by the FBI.

* * * *

Little in the agent’s testimony or in the tapes themselves is new to those who have been following the case since the indictment was filed in April of 2014, aside from the in-your-face horror of hearing such betrayal and deceit with one’s own ears.

What is shocking, and a matter of great disappointment in the media room, is that Tony Serra – lion among trial defense attorneys, the man renowned for using government witnesses for his own clients’ purposes – is not conducting the cross examination of UCE 4599.

I caught Serra in the hallway after trial on Friday, and asked why his associate Curtis Briggs would be administering the cross.

“I just haven’t had the time to read it all. I just got through with a murder defense, and there is just so much material, I’m still getting caught up. I’m crossing all the snitches, and Curtis will do the undercovers, because he’s been with it for over a year now. He might not have as much experience, but he has courage and that is the most important thing,” Serra said. He then ambled away, farting audibly.

Minutes later I spoke to Briggs outside as he hailed a taxi.

“We are going to wipe the floor with them. Either that, or they will wipe the floor with us,” he said.

This inclination for self-effacement was evident on Monday afternoon when Briggs assumed the podium to deliver his cross examination. Minutes in, there were groans and giggles in the press room. To be fair, Briggs was noticeably sick – his voice hoarse and nose running. But even at full strength, his courtroom presence stands out in this high-profile courtroom like a thumb among wolves.

Assistant US Attorney William Frentzen conducted the foregoing direct examination with all the charm and personality of a hand grenade – he is delivered directly out of central casting: sardonic, athletic, unflappable.

Briggs, on the other hand, stops and starts and apologizes, makes ill-advised asides and jokes, and ties himself in knots with his own sentence structure. In other words, he’s the most sympathetic character in the room. Somehow, the task of picking apart an excruciatingly complex FBI operation, sorting the shadows of impropriety and government corruption that haunt the case, have fallen squarely in the lap of a young Columbo of the Bar.

And yet, either despite this fumbly approach or because of it, Briggs was able to eke a few salient points out of UCE 4599, who’d been preparing for this day since he first took Shrimp Boy on a deep sea fishing tip off Maui in 2010.

Briggs will resume his cross examination on December 7th – he called out sick on Tuesday, causing the trial to be postponed until after the Thanksgiving break.