He dined with them. His wife worked for them.
Then he masterminded the kidnapping of their 3-year-old boy to extort $1.5 million from them.
That is the scenario prosecutors gave jurors Monday as trial began for businessman Kei Chang, 31, and three others charged with kidnapping Ernest Chan last year from his wealthy parents' San Marino home. The boy was rescued in April 2000 by FBI agents after a two-week ordeal.
Chang's attorney, however, told jurors his client is an innocent stock trader without a criminal record. Alex Kessel said Chang is falsely implicated by one of the kidnappers, who is testifying for prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence. Kessel said the other defendants are known gang members who confessed to authorities.
This division among the defendants led Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito to agree to two juries for the case. One is for Chang and another is for Paul Thim, 17; Johnny Lung Ly, 24; and Sokkha Khy, 20. All have pleaded not guilty to seven felony counts, including kidnapping for ransom, which carries a possible life sentence. Thim is being tried as an adult. The two dozen jurors, along with alternates, lawyers, defendants, translators and a sign language expert to accommodate a deaf juror, made Ito's courtroom more resemble a gate at Los Angeles International Airport on Thanksgiving than a hall of justice.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Marianne M.J. Thompson told jurors that evidence will show that the kidnapping on March 20, 2000, was orchestrated by Chang and Thom "Moon" Huynh, 28, of Alhambra, who will testify for the prosecution. Huynh has pleaded guilty and faces 11 to 14 years for kidnapping.
Thompson said Huynh and Chang planned the abduction by gleaning information from Chang's wife, Roxanne, who worked for Stephen Chan and Maria Cheung at their clothing business, handling a key account. Although she did not help organize the kidnapping and is not charged, Thompson said, she knew details of the couple's finances.
"She invited [Chan and Cheung] to lunch and innocently provided information used in the kidnapping," she said.
Huynh, she said, will testify that it was Kei Chang who showed him the couple's home. She said Huynh will testify that he hired Khy and Thim to abduct the boy, and it was they who entered the Chan home and grabbed the child from his nanny at knifepoint. The nanny testified Monday that two masked men abducted the boy and tied her up with electric cords as she begged, "Please don't hurt the baby or me; take anything."
Thompson said FBI agents, after 13 days of aborted payoffs, traced a ransom call to the toddler's parents at a Monterey Park restaurant to an Echo Park public phone, where agents arrested Huynh. His cellular and pager records led agents to Ly and Chang, she said.
The next day, Thompson said, Ly, Khy and Thim confessed their roles and the child was rescued by an FBI SWAT team from a Los Angeles apartment, where Khy's mother and sister were looking after the boy. Both women have pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
But Chang's attorney said the evidence will show that Chang--a busy Internet day trader on the Hong Kong market with a new baby--is really a victim. Kessel said the telephone calls between Huynh and Chang were not signs of a conspiracy but part of efforts by Huynh to extort money from Chang.
And just as prosecutors produced a photo of the kidnapped boy, Kessel tried to emphasize that his client was a new father as well, producing several snapshots of Chang's child.
Outside court Monday, Thim's attorney, Terrence Bennett, who says his client never confessed, said Chang's defense is hurting the other defendants.