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Chinatown Enforcer: Tough Guy in Small Package

November 29, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ At 4-foot-11, with dark eyes and an eager smile, Yuen Tung Chui exuded a disarming sweetness.

It was a quality, authorities said, that helped make the 13-year-old dropout deft at his profession: gangland enforcer.

Chui is accused of terrorizing Chinatown street vendors with a box cutter to extort cash for the Flying Dragons gang.

The boy was arrested Oct. 6 with a reputed gang member he allegedly worked for. Chui was charged with offenses including attempted robbery, grand larceny and attempted kidnapping. As a juvenile, he could be kept behind bars until his 18th birthday.

The case reflects both the struggles of an immigrant family and the alarming recruitment practices of Asian street gangs.

Chui’s father, a restaurateur, died three years ago, a year after coming from Hong Kong, said the boy’s lawyer, Raymond Hsu.

With his mother, Muk For Chui, in poor health and on public assistance, Chui became the man of the house, often caring for his 3-year-old sister, Hsu said.

The mother, through Hsu, refused to talk to The Associated Press. She told the Daily News that the boy she knows ″wouldn’t dare do such a bad thing.″

″I’m heartbroken,″ she said. ″I don’t know how to deal with it.″

Hoping to provide for his family, Chui quit school and worked odd jobs around Chinatown, Hsu said. He began hanging out at a park frequented by members of the Flying Dragons.

The Dragons select baby-faced boys, some as young as 10, to carry guns, deliver messages and watch for police, said Peter Kwong, a Hunter College professor who has studied Chinatown gangs.

″They get the kids to do their dirty work so they themselves don’t get implicated,″ Kwong said. ″This is not a new thing.″

Hsu said his client was an occasional messenger for reputed gang member Waihong Lau. Beyond that, ″his only crime was hanging out with the wrong crowd,″ Hsu said.

Authorities suspect that over the past six months, Chui extorted $80 or more a month in protection money on at least 16 occasions from bun vendors. Most of the victims, fearing gang reprisals, refuse to testify against him.

Last month, two weeks before Chui’s 13th birthday, police spotted Lau, 20, and Chui wrestling with a bun vendor at a Chinatown corner, said Al O’Leary, a police spokesman.

The victim told police Chui and Lau demanded $500 and threatened him with death if he didn’t pay. Chui allegedly flashed the knife intended to cut boxes, but the vendor didn’t think the two would make a move on the busy street.

Chui and Lau allegedly jumped him. Police found a cigarette lighter shaped like a gun in one of Chui’s pockets.

Prosecutor Maria Curran refused to discuss the case.

Chui’s Family Court trial is scheduled to begin Friday and he will remain in jail until then.

″Look at him,″ Hsu said. ″He’s certainly no gangster.″

Update hourly