Get a site

mason eye

Freemasonry Watch Banner

San Francisco Chinese Freemasons Leader Gunned Down

Rotating Compass & Square

San Francisco Chronicle

Gunned-down Chinatown leader feared he'd be killed

Businessman intended victim, police say 'This person was intended to be shot'

Jaxon Van Derbeken and Vanessa Hua, Chronicle Staff Writers

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Allen Leung feared for his life.

The influential leader of two powerful fraternal organizations in San Francisco's Chinatown told federal and local authorities last year that he was afraid he might be harmed as part of an internal feud within one of his groups.

Leung, 56, was gunned down inside his import-export business Monday afternoon. Police do not know whether the people he feared were behind the slaying, but they do know that the attack at 603 Jackson St. was not random.

"This person was intended to be shot -- this was not a robbery. (Leung) offered him money, but he shot him and left," said San Francisco police homicide Lt. John Hennessey of the shooting. The masked assailant fled into a heavy rain.

The slaying at Wonkow Art Centres and Wonkow International Enterprises Inc. reverberated through the tightly knit Chinatown community, where Leung was a mediator who settled personal and political disputes.

Leung was an elder in two historic Chinese fraternal organizations, or tongs -- the Hop Sing Tong and the Chinese Freemasons, also known as the Chee Kung Tong. And he was a leader in several other Chinatown business and community groups.

According to court documents, Leung went to the FBI last year after a series of incidents involving Hop Sing. The problems began on Dec. 30, 2004, he told them, when two younger members of Hop Sing sought about $100,000 from the organization.

San Francisco police began looking into Leung's case on Feb. 25, 2005, when a restaurant and four San Francisco buildings that housed tongs -- but not Hop Sing -- were vandalized with red paint.

On March 11, Leung and other Hop Sing leaders met and voted to turn down the request for $100,000, Leung told authorities.

The next day, someone fired several shots into the door of the Hop Sing Tong, police said. Later in March, Hop Sing leaders received a taunting letter referring to the shooting.

A translation of the letter included in court documents reads, "Someone opened fire to front door but you're just chickens -- . No response to it. Just keeping your mouth quiet. Having this kind of leader makes all the tongs lose face. I have a poem to dedicate to you. 'You should be embarrassed for a thousand years and your reputation stink for 10,000 years.' "

Leung told federal agents in April that he feared for his safety, documents show.

One of the men Leung said had sought the cash was soon taken into custody on immigration charges. But federal officials ultimately were unable to act further on Leung's fears.

"Leung did talk to the FBI as a complainant," LaRae Quy, spokeswoman for the bureau in San Francisco, said Tuesday. "The FBI found no evidence to corroborate the allegations made by Leung."

Born in Taishan in southern China, Leung immigrated to the Bay Area more than three decades ago. He attended community college, enrolled in a cooking school, worked in real estate, and built an import-export business, friends and family said Tuesday. He and two brothers founded the Leung White Crane martial arts school in Chinatown, whose students often perform in community events such as the Chinese New Year Parade.

Leung and his wife, Jenny, have two daughters and a son.

Leung worked his way into the higher echelons of several prestigious Chinatown groups. He was one of 62 members of the Chinese Six Companies, a historic association of Chinatown leaders that is courted by politicians for donations and votes, and he served as board president of the Chinese Central High School and as a director of the Chinese Hospital, a 54-bed clinic in Chinatown.

Chinatown has dozens of fraternal and other benevolent associations, many of which formed more than a century ago to assist countrymen or to rally against China's imperial government.

Today, the associations own roughly a third of the property in Chinatown, collecting rents on buildings paid off long ago. Many spend their income on scholarships and banquets, but there has been occasional infighting over control of the associations.

Pius Lee, a politically connected Chinatown property owner and land developer, hired Leung years ago to work in his real estate office. It was Lee's recommendation that put Leung in the Chinatown Economic Development Group, a private organization created to give the neighborhood an economic boost after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

"He tries to make friends with both sides, to make peace. That's why I admire him," Lee said of Leung's mediation skills. "He tries to be the middleman, saying, 'Let's talk. Don't fight.' "

Leung recently tried to mediate a financial dispute between current and former board members of the Chinatown Economic Development Group.

Mark Liao, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, said Leung was a commissioner of overseas affairs, an honorary post, for Taiwan.

Chinatown political leaders have split since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 over their support for either the mainland Chinese government or the government-in-exile on Taiwan.

Leung's shop sits at the edge of Chinatown, where Jackson Street slopes down into the Financial District. Though its worn awning advertises an art gallery and custom framing, it is a wholesale import-export business.

Next door at Star Lunch, a small eatery, cook Rory Chen said Tuesday that he heard a loud noise Monday afternoon. He did not know it was gunfire until police showed up, Chen said. Leung had often stopped by to eat.

"He was a good man," Chen said in Chinese.

Chinatown leaders are concerned about a possible resurgence of the kind of violence they saw in the 1970s. In 1977, gang warfare at the Golden Dragon restaurant on Washington Street killed five bystanders and injured 11. The cycle of violence extends back to the tong wars of the 1920s.

"This takes Chinatown back to a long time ago," said James Chung, a San Francisco insurance agent and Chinatown leader aligned with Taiwan. "This is not a society we want in the United States, a modern and democratic country. We shouldn't have the old traditional way to solve these problems. I wish we can stop these kinds of things and go back to law and order."

Leung, as head of the Chinese Freemasons, was involved tangentially in a dispute within that organization that ended with a defamation lawsuit filed in 2002.

A New York leader of the group, Pang Woon Ng, sued, saying he was defamed when officials at the San Francisco branch of the organization said Ng had broken the group's operating rules. Leung, who was not a leader of the group at that time, later took over the local organization.

He was involved in the legal battle only in authorizing continued payments to attorneys to combat the suit, said Paul Winick, a New York attorney handling the case for the Freemasons.

Harrison Lim, a director at the Chinese Six Companies, saw Leung twice on the day he died -- at noon and around 3 p.m. at the New Jackson Cafe across the street from his shop. The men waved hello both times, and a friend of Lim's picked up Leung's check the second time.

"It's Chinese style. We see a good friend, we pay," he said. "Especially in these last three years, he's one of the strongest leaders in our community."

Page A - 1

Further Reading:

Freemasonry in Singapore and Hong Kong