THE VOICE ON THE TAPE WAS COOL and deliberate. "Do it," the reputed crime boss intoned, apparently ordering the murder of two of his trusted lieutenants. "Do a clean job." But there was one thing that 27-year-old Guo Liang Qi, one of the most wanted men in the United States, had not counted on: the phone call commissioning the hit had been recorded by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Guo, who was under FBI surveillance for allegedly transporting and enslaving hundreds of illegal Chinese immigrants, was arrested recently in Hong Kong. In the United States, 14 members of his Fuk Ching gang were nabbed as well. A suspect in this summer's Golden Venture smuggling operation, he was nailed instead on charges of murder and conspiracy to murder in connection with the slayings.
Guo's rise and fall offers a glimpse into the world of the Chinese slave trade. Now a multibillion-dollar enterprise, it has made Asian gangs the fastest-growing organized crime group in the United States. "With these arrests we've struck a major blow at ... one of the largest illegal smugglers of aliens into the U.S.," says New York FBI head James Fox.
Guo's empire extended from a fortress-like compound in China's Fujian province to the streets of New York's Chinatown. Also known as Ah Kay, Guo was born in Fujian and is believed to have come to the United States in 1980. He became a debt collector for the Fuk Ching, which was then a low-profile Chinatown street gang. But as the group grew bolder, so did Guo. By 1989 he had become head of the Fuk Ching and boss of a massive smuggling empire that helped ship illegal aliens from Fujian to Hawaii, California, Massachusetts and North Carolina, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The Fuk Ching typically charged immigrants fees of $20,000 and up, a sum far exceeding the average Chinese resident's per capita income. The Golden Venture incident brought public attention to the complex and brutal nature of the smuggling operations. Migrants who accepted the gang's assistance but didn't pay were forced into indentured servitude to work off their debt. The least fortunate were kidnapped, tortured, even murdered.
The business was so profitable that last December, Guo's followers and a dissident faction headed by rebellious lieutenant Xin Dan Lin began bickering over the spoils. According to court documents, Guo ordered the assassination of the rebels; two were killed in January. In retaliation, authorities say, Xin and his men attacked a gang safe house on a quiet residential street in Teaneck, N.J. Neighbors heard the unfamiliar pop of gunfire. Chinese men scrambled out of the house and one ran bleeding and wounded past manicured lawns and children's toys. An assailant followed, firing a dozen shots along the way. Law-enforcement officers arrived minutes later to a grisly crime scene. In the basement two victims lay bound and gagged, each shot execution style in the head. Upstairs two others had been shot and stabbed. Two of the victims were Guo's brothers.
The suspects were charged with murder, and their bail set at $1 million each. During the arraignment they answered questions in monosyllables, or not at all. Xin showed a glimmer of interest only once, when he turned to question the judge about his bail: "If I bring $1 million does that really mean I can go free?" asked the 32-year-old illegal immigrant. From his demeanor, said Bergen County prosecutor John Fahy, "we got the feeling he really could raise a million."
Perhaps the most notorious of Guo's alleged exploits is the Golden Venture, which carried nearly 300 Chinese illegal aliens from Southeast Asia via Africa to a New York beach. U.S. officials have not conclusively linked Guo to that operation. But sources close to the case said Guo won the Golden Venture's "cargo" while gambling. By the time the ship reached the East Coast, however, a ferocious storm and a mutiny by some of the passengers had disrupted the smuggling network. The ship foundered, dozens of immigrants jumped into the chilly surf trying to escape and 10 drowned.
The confusion rife in Asian crime networks-with their myriad dialects and clannish traditions-poses sometimes insurmountable challenges for U.S. law enforcement. Teaneck police couldn't penetrate the relatively obscure Fujianese dialect spoken by most Fuk Ching members; it was tough enough finding translators who spoke Mandarin.
Despite Guo's capture, many law-enforcement officers predict another gang leader will fill the vacuum. "There was alien smuggling before he showed up, and it will continue whether he comes or goes," says Wayne McKenna of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In an underworld ruled by cutthroat laws of supply and demand, the desire for passage to the United States-regardless of how perilous or costly-remains high. So does the supply of organized-crime figures willing to exploit it.