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Extortion threats target white-collar Asians in San Gabriel Valley

April 14, 2009 |  9:35 am

More than half a dozen San Gabriel Valley doctors, lawyers and other professionals with Asian backgrounds have been receiving phone calls threatening violence against their families or businesses if they don't pay $30,000, authorities said.

The extortion scheme, believed to be originating in mainland China using telephone calling cards and disposable cellular phones, has targeted at least eight people in Alhambra, Pasadena, San Marino, South Pasadena and San Gabriel, said San Marino Police Lt. Steve Johnson.

So far, no one has complied with the demands and local police departments in those cities have teamed with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to investigate the cases.

The callers, who speak Mandarin and claim to be affiliated with a Mafia family, have made a variety of threats against victims' family members and their businesses, telling them "Pay or else," "We'll come to your house" and "We know where you live," Johnson said.

Some have received the calls at their homes, others where they work. They are told to call back and make arrangements to deliver the money. Thus far, there have been no reports of anyone giving the extortionists money, but Johnson said anyone who has received such a call should report it to authorities immediately.

"We think it's statewide and it could go beyond that," said Johnson, who noted that similar extortion threats have been reported by Asian professionals in the city of Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area. "Tracking it back is very difficult. The good thing is that we have not received reports of any attempted kidnappings or other forms of violence."

Johnson said at least three calls have been placed to San Marino residents in as many weeks.

He advises professionals to limit how much personal information they give out, use home security systems, check locks and be aware of their surroundings to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary. If they are being followed, they should contact police right away.

-- Andrew Blankstein