Read The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream Online

Authors: Patrick Radden Keefe

Tags: #Social Science, #General

The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream


In at least some parts of nineteenth-century Norway, people called those who intended to emigrate “Americans” even before they left
Coming to America:
A History of Immigration and
Ethnicity in American Life


Dramatis Personae

Map of Chinatown


Leaving Fujian

Eighteen-Thousand-Dollar Woman

Dai Lo of the Fuk Ching


Year of the Snake


The Phantom Ship

The Teaneck Massacre

Mutiny in the Atlantic

A Well-founded Fear

The Fat Man

Freedom Birds

The Goldfish and the Great Wall


Snakeheads International

Catching Lilly Zhang

The Mother of All Snakeheads



A Note on Sources


Dramatis Personae
GIVEN THE historical and geographical sweep of this story, there are, of necessity, many characters. Because
The Snakehead
is an account of people transplanted from one country to another, many of the individuals described go by more than one name. In order to minimize confusion for readers who may be unaccustomed to Chinese names, I have defaulted in many instances to the English names adopted by some of the Chinese characters. Thus Chung Sing Chau, who upon arriving in America took the name Sean Chen, will be Sean Chen for the purposes of this story. Because some of the characters in the book are involved in organized crime, and because Chinese mobsters share with their cousins in the Italian Mafia a wonderful facility for nicknames, I have opted to refer to some characters primarily by their nicknames—like Mr. Charlie, or the Fat Man—simply on the grounds that the nicknames will be easier for the reader to keep straight.
Chinese names are customarily rendered with the family name preceding the individual name, so Sister Ping’s full name is Cheng Chui Ping, Cheng being her surname. I have followed the Chinese form, with a few exceptions, such as Kin Sin Lee and Pin Lin, where through some consensus prosecutors, immigration attorneys,
Golden Venture
passengers, and the friends and associates of the individual in question have all elected to reverse the order, putting the first name first and the surname last, and for me to do otherwise would be formalistic. In what follows, the boldface name is the one used in the body of the book, nicknames are placed in quotation marks, and inside the parentheses are aliases, birth names (if the person has adopted an English name or a nickname), and traditional Chinese renderings (in the few cases where I otherwise depart from them).
“Ah Kay”
(Guo Liang Qi),
leader of the Fuk Ching gang
“Ah Wong”
(Guo Liang Wong),
younger brother of Ah Kay who assumed control of smuggling operations
Gloria Canales
major people smuggler, based in Costa Rica
Ann Carr
British immigration attorney who represented Sean Chen in York, Pennsylvania
Ying Chan
, Daily News
reporter who covered the snakehead trade
“Mr. Charlie”
(“Char Lee,” “Ma Lee,” Lee Peng Fei),
Bangkok-based boat smuggler
Sean Chen
(Chung Sing Chau),
Fujianese teenager aboard the
Golden Venture
Cheng Chai Leung
father of Sister Ping, early Fujianese snakehead
Cheng Chui Ping
(“Sister Ping”),
New York–based snakehead and underground banker
Cheng Mei Yeung
brother of Sister Ping, smuggler based in Guatemala, California, and Bangkok
Monica Cheng
(Cheng Hui Mui),
daughter and oldest child of Sister Ping and Cheung Yick Tak
Susan Cheng
(Cheng Tsui Wah),
Sister Ping’s sister, procured travel documents for smuggled migrants
Cheung Yick Tak
husband of Sister Ping
Beverly Church
nurse and paralegal in York, Pennsylvania, became involved with the
Golden Venture
Patrick Devine
Buffalo-based INS investigator
James Dullan
driver on the Niagara smuggling route
“The Fat Man”
(“Four Star,” Dickson Yao),
Hong Kong–based drug smuggler and informant for the DEA and the INS
Kenny Feng
Taiwanese snakehead and associate of Sister Ping, based in Guatemala
Foochow Paul
(Kin Fei Wong),
original head of the Fuk Ching gang
Ed Garde
investigator with the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department
Richard Kephart
driver on the Niagara smuggling route
Ray Kerr
head of the FBI’s C-6 squad, handled Dan Xin Lin
Kin Sin Lee
(Lee Kin Sin),
Mr. Charlie’s deputy, chief snakehead enforcer aboard the
Golden Venture
Dougie Lee
detective with the NYPD’s Jade Squad
Peter Lee
FBI special agent, handled Sister Ping
Dan Xin Lin
(Lin Dan Xin),
Fuk Ching gang member, defected to start his own smuggling operation
Li Xing Hua
Fuk Ching gang member, bodyguard to Ah Kay
Sam Lwin
Burmese first officer of the
Golden Venture,
subsequently took control of the ship
Joan Maruskin
Methodist minister in York, Pennsylvania, became involved with the
Golden Venture
Billy McMurry
FBI special agent, responsible for the Sister Ping investigation after 1997
Doris Meissner
commissioner of the INS, appointed by President Clinton after the
Golden Venture
Don Monica
Nairobi-based INS officer
Konrad Motyka
FBI special agent who worked on both the Fuk Ching and the Sister Ping case
Joe Occhipinti
head of the INS’s Anti-Smuggling Unit and lead investigator on Operation Hester
Benny Ong
(“Uncle Seven,” Ong Kai Sui),
adviser for life to the Hip Sing tong in Chinatown
(Min Hoang),
Vietnamese smuggler based in Canada, piloted boats across the Niagara River
(Cheng Wai Wei),
brother-in-law of Sister Ping, husband of Susan, ran the Niagara smuggling route
Pin Lin
(Lin Pin), Golden Venture
passenger represented by Craig Trebilcock
Pao Pong
Pattaya Tourist Police officer, interrupted loading of the
Golden Venture
in Thailand
Grover Joseph Rees III
general counsel of the INS
Luke Rettler
prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, specialized in Asian gangs
Mark Riordan
Bangkok-based INS officer
Eric Schwartz
National Security Council staffer, coordinated the Washington response to the
Golden Venture
Gerald Shargel
prominent criminal defense attorney, represented Ah Kay
Sterling Showers
retired factory worker in York, Pennsylvania, befriended
Golden Venture
Bill Slattery
district director of the INS in New York City
Song You Lin
Fuk Ching gang assassin
Jerry Stuchiner
INS officer in charge in Hong Kong and then in Honduras
Alan Tam
(“Ha Gwei”),
half African American Fuk Ching gang member, driver and fixer for the gang
Amir Tobing
Indonesian captain of the
Golden Venture
Craig Trebilcock
York, Pennsylvania, litigator, led pro bono legal effort on behalf of Golden
Wang Kong Fu
close smuggling associate of Sister Ping’s, introduced Sister Ping to Ah Kay
Herbie Weizenblut
associate of Jerry Stuchiner’s, installed as Honduran consul in Hong Kong
Weng Yu Hui
Fujianese man smuggled by Sister Ping, later became a key
Golden Venture
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