The Chicago Syndicate: How a 16-year-old white boy rose to become a Chinese mafia boss #WhiteDevil
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Monday, January 04, 2016

How a 16-year-old white boy rose to become a Chinese mafia boss #WhiteDevil

Down on his luck and with nowhere no turn, 16-year-old John Willis made a phone call that would transform his life.

With his father long gone and his mother dead, he was taking steroids to beef himself up and convince the owner of a club in Boston that he was 18 and therefore old enough to be a bouncer. After helping a young Asian man called Woping Joe out of a fight at the club, he was handed a card with a phone number and told to ring it if he ever needed help.

Days later, with just 76 cents to his name and nowhere to sleep, he found himself dialing the number for a lift. Just minutes afterwards he was picked up by two BMWs car packed with young, Chinese men. At the time he was just looking for a warm meal and a roof over his head, but a decade later he would be the Chinese mafia's number two, known as Bac Guai John - or White Devil.

The FBI say he is the only man to reach anywhere near the top of the Chinese mafia, which usually keeps itself to itself and rarely mixes with crime syndicates of other ethnicities. But the Ping On gang took to bright-eyed Willis, who quickly picked up Chinese in two different dialects - Cantonese and Toisanese - as well as Vietnamese, after a family took him in.

He realized he had to learn the language quickly, not only because a lot of the people he dealt with on a day-to-day basis did not speak English but also because he needed to have a grasp of Chinese to pick up women.

After listening in on conversations, as well as watching Chinese films and listening to Chinese music, he soon had a convincing accent, Vice reported.

He started out as a small time loan collector, ensuring those higher up in the gang were never left out of pocket by their clients. But his loyalty and diligence soon saw him rise through the ranks until he was the chief bodyguard to Bai Ming, who was high up the chain of command in Boston's Chinese mafia.

According to Bob Halloran, who interviewed the gangster - who is currently in prison - for his book White Devil: The True Story of the First White Asian Crime Boss, Willis' role would see him check Ming's car for bombs and collect money from underground gambling dens. He would do whatever it took to finish a job and his success saw him become Ming's right-hand man. Ming was only sixth or seventh in command at the time, but after a few arrests here and some gangland killings there, he suddenly found himself at the helm of the mafia - with the White Devil as his number two.

Willis did time in prison in the 90s and came out with connections in the marijuana trade. He was warned away from drugs by other members of the mafia - who largely made their money from gambling, massage parlors and prostitution - but carried on selling narcotics because of the vast profits he made.

Soon, however, he was dealing cocaine and eventually moved into dealing oxycodone, trafficking it from Florida to Boston and also selling it in Cape Cod. He is thought to have shifted 260,000 pills in a racket worth $4million, but he told investigators it was worth at least 10 times that.

Willis - who was branded in court as 'the kingpin, organizer and leader of a vast conspiracy' - was eventually caught by the police and, in 2013, was jailed for 20 years.

Halloran says Willis' greatest regret is not the lives he damaged as part of the mob or through trafficking drugs, but is the fact he can no longer see his Vietnamese-American girlfriend and her daughter.

According to Rolling Stone, Willis was with his lover Anh Nguyen on her daughter's ninth birthday when his crimes finally caught up with him. They had met in 2005, when he approached and told her in English that she was 'drop-dead gorgeous'. She thought he was just 'a white kid with an Asian fetish', but fell for him after hearing him break up a fight in Chinese.

For a member of the mob, Willis' life was relatively stable, but as he lay in bed with Nguyen in March 2011, his empire of fast cars, speedboats and beachside homes in Florida was about to come crashing down. He had kept his life of organized crime separate from his family life - only admitting to his girlfriend that he was a gangster after she questioned cuts on his hands - but even she had to accept a plea of tampering with a witness when Willis, who is now 44, faced trial.

While it is unheard of for a white teenager to rise to the top of the Chinese mafia, it is not surprising that a troubled child growing up in Dorchester, a suburb of Boston, in the 1970s wound up in the wrong company.

Notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger also grew up in Dorchester. He infiltrated the Boston office of the FBI and bought off agents who protected him. Some feared he would never be caught and he was soon placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List - at one point he was only second to Osama Bin Laden. Bulger fled Boston in 1994 and remained a fugitive until he was captured in Santa Monica, California, in 2011. He was convicted of participating in 11 murders while running Boston's Winter Hill Gang for two decades and is now serving two life sentences.

Thanks to Ollie Gillman .

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