NEW YORK -- Federal prosecutors announced charges yesterday against 51 alleged members of two Chinese gangs, accusing them of attempted murder, immigrant smuggling, trafficking in counterfeit clothing and purses, and other crimes.
US Attorney David N. Kelley said the gangs used violence to protect their territory and profits, and he warned people who buy counterfeit products in New York's Chinatown and elsewhere that their money is going to the underworld.
He said that if consumers knew the harm they were contributing to, they would realize it ''can't possibly be worth the bargain."
Kelley said nearly 30 gang members had been arrested; the rest are at large. He described several grisly attacks by gang members, including the shooting of one man in the head, and a beating that caused a woman to nearly lose an eye.
The gangs, he said, made tens of thousands of dollars a week, coordinating some of their crimes with associates in Asia who helped to deliver counterfeit goods or arrange the smuggling of people into the United States. The government is seeking millions of dollars in forfeitures from the defendants.
Pasquale D'Amuro, assistant director of the FBI, said the list of crimes engaged in by the gang members ''reads like the basic handbook for organized crime."
They were charged with attempting and conspiring to murder, racketeering, immigrant smuggling, extortion, loan-sharking, money laundering, trafficking in counterfeit goods, and gambling. Most of the crimes, Kelley said, occurred in parts of New York with large populations of Asian immigrants.
The allegations offered a glimpse into how Chinese gangs have changed since the 1990s, when US law enforcement authorities cracked down on schemes in which such gangs used large boats or trucks to smuggle immigrants into the country.
He said the gangs now are more careful, charging as much as $75,000 a person to provide them with false documents and smuggle them two or three at a time through Los Angeles, Newark, and Kennedy Airport in New York.
He also said Chinatown was no longer victimized by gangs that once presided over nearly every block. The old gangs made it impossible to do business there without submitting to extortion.
Now, victims tend to be those who seek loans or rack up heavy gambling debts, Kelley said.