What is the chinese word for mafia
How a white boy from Boston worked his way up in the Chinese mafia
Cover photo: courtesy of John Willis and BenBella Books
They called him "Bac Guai", which the FBI translated as "White Devil". He was a young man who grew up in Dorchester — a poor suburb of Boston — and, like all other residents and workers with Irish roots, played ice hockey. Boston is a city with long-standing traditions, proud of its colonial past, resident sports teams, and even criminal history. But said young man, who was born John Willis and rose to the ranks of the Chinese Mafia as a White Devil, should not ultimately be loyal to the Bostonians he grew up with.
Willis' father left the family when the boy was two, and his mother passed away shortly after his 15th birthday. Willis had a few relatives in the city, but no one wanted to take the orphaned teenager into their home. Like any young person who feels hurt and lonely, Willis just wanted to be accepted. When he was denied this acceptance by his own people, he was drawn towards a community that accepted him. Surprisingly, this community was a Chinese gang called Ping On.
From the mid-80s until after the turn of the millennium, Willis climbed higher and higher in one of Boston's larger mafia clans. He started as a debt collector or bodyguard and ended up being the brains behind a $ 4 million oxycodone ring (he himself claims the ring is worth "10 times as much"). In 2011, he was 20 years old for drug trafficking and money laundering Sentenced. Scott O'Donnell, the FBI agent whose special unit finally brought down the White Devil, said he had "never seen" a criminal like Willis because of his high standing within the Chinese Mafia.
At the beginning of 2016 a book with the appropriate title will be published through BenBella Books White Devil will be published, which retells the life and crimes of the Boston gangster - including thoughts and anecdotes from Willis himself. The author of the chronology is Bob Halloran, a newscaster and sports presenter for Channel 5, the Boston branch of ABC television. I spoke to the award-winning journalist to find out more about his visits to prison with John Willis and the story of the Dorchester boy who rose to become a White Devil within the Chinese Mafia.
VICE: How exactly did a white kid from a Boston suburb end up in the Chinese mafia?
Bob Halloran: Luck and chance played a major role here. Yes, in a way, John was just very lucky. At 16, he falsely pretended to be 18 to work as a bouncer in a bar near Boston's Fenway Park baseball stadium. Even then he was addicted to steroids and bodybuilding and was accordingly built broadly. There were always a lot of Asians in the bar and one evening there was a fight in which he helped one of the Asians out of a mess. This Asian man — Woping Joe — finally handed John a card with a phone number on it and said he should just call him if he ever needed help.
And of course Willis called.
Exactly. When John was going through really tough times - he was broke and was sleeping on the floor of a deceased relative's apartment - he decided to dial the number because he needed a driver. He had no idea what to expect. Suddenly a car appeared next to the phone booth where John had just been on the phone and six or seven Chinese got out. They made room for him and then everyone drove to a house that was home to many more Chinese — including mothers, children, and other gang members. That gang was Ping On and they controlled a large portion of Boston's illegal gambling halls and massage parlors back in the 1970s and 80s.
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There he ate dinner and the next day they gave him new clothes, familiarized him with the gang and finally took him in. It all sounds so straightforward, but there really is no other explanation for this acceptance — John just showed them respect, and now they followed suit. Over time, a profound connection developed. He was properly trained in the gang, initially traveling to New York to collect money from the gambling dens and work as a bodyguard for high-ranking criminals.
Was Willis struggling with a language or cultural barrier?
In New York, the gang has always tried to pick up women in Chinese bars and clubs. Of course there were mainly Asian women present and one of John's good friends, who was also trained in the gang, told him that he would have to learn Chinese if he wanted to pick up Asian women. And that's exactly what he did by listening carefully to group conversations, watching Chinese films, and listening to Chinese music. He had a really good command of the language, including correct grammar and a perfect accent. This fact was very important for his advancement within the gang, because he also had to deal with many first-generation Chinese who did not speak much English.
Photo courtesy of John Willis
He joined the gang as a teenager. Why was he still accepted by the criminal underground in the years that followed?
John always bragged about being the only white guy in a Chinese gang. At first I couldn't quite believe the whole thing, but when I asked the FBI about it, they said to me that John's case was something pretty rare. The Chinese mafia is not exactly known for its openness. You don't trust outsiders there and John was roughly the definition of an outsider. In my opinion, it was the way he was introduced as a teenager - that is, this specialty - that made him work his way up so far in the long run. He was also always a topic of conversation because his boss found it so interesting that a white man could speak Chinese.
The most important thing, however, was that he was willing to do whatever was asked of him. And he was always successful, no matter what the task might have been. He could be trusted and he was loyal. If he had only joined the gang as a 28-year-old, his introduction would probably not have worked so well. The whole thing was easier for him as a naive 16-year-old. I think that this fact helped him a lot. He was also not something of a trailblazer, because no other white guys were accepted into this mafia group after him. He really was the only one.
In the beginning, Willis was still the man for the rough. Then how did he climb up the mafia hierarchy?
After his "training" in New York in the early 1990s, he went back to Boston, where he then worked for a man named Bai Ming. Ming wasn't very important in Boston's Chinatown at the time, however, he was perhaps sixth or seventh Soon, however, the leaders would be disappearing from the scene one by one — one went back to China, for example, and a few others killed each other. Suddenly, Bai Ming was at the helm of Chinatown and John was his right hand man, his bodyguard , his main debt collector, as well as the guy who checked the car for bombs every morning and got him safely to restaurants and other public places.
In command of the gangs of Chinatown, John was second because of his position as assistant to the chief. When he went to New York and learned Chinese, he rose in the hierarchy because he could communicate with everyone and because physically he was just bigger and stronger than any other gang member. Besides, he wasn't too good for any dirty work.
How did it come about that Willis was caught by the authorities and sentenced to 20 years in prison?
In the early 1990s, Bai Ming mainly operated gambling dens and also some prostitution rings. But he had nothing to do with drugs. John had to go to jail for a short while at one point, and by the time he was released he had forged relationships that got him into the marijuana business. The amount of weed got bigger and bigger and at some point it started with cocaine. Although John's boss said he should keep his hands off it, John went on on his own and made a lot of money. For a long time he stopped working exclusively for the Chinese mafia, but never let the relationship end.
John ended up in jail a few more times and that's how the connection to Florida came about, through which he got a large amount of the pain reliever oxycodone. He then began smuggling the drug from Florida to Massachusetts and selling it on Cape Cod and in and around Boston. In the end, however, the authorities began a long-term investigation that focused primarily on the criminals within Chinatown. John has been linked to these criminals and that is what ultimately led to his arrest.
What was it like interviewing John Willis in a detention center for the book?
I conducted the interviews with John in a small room outside his cell. I spent a total of seven hours with him over a period of two days. That might sound terrible now, but somehow I found him likeable - or at least understood. He does not ask for forgiveness from anyone because, in his opinion, he has done nothing wrong. When he told me his story from his perspective, there was definitely good reason to empathize with him, but also good reason not to like the way he went about his life. If you got to know him without knowing his background, you might think that John is a really clever, charismatic and interesting guy who thinks everything through, has different interests and reads a lot.
I didn't know what to expect because he had committed some really bad crimes and was a drug dealer for a number of years. I don't see criminals that often now, so I had no real idea how it was going to work out. When I sat down with him, he was very friendly, almost gentle. He never speaks in a loud voice, he almost whispers when you talk to him. I thought it was very interesting and compelling. I was never intimidated by him during our conversation. Even when I teased him a little, he didn't get angry.
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Do you remember what you talked about at the beginning of your meeting?
One of the first things John emphasized was the fact that gangsters only kill gangsters and criminals only kill criminals. He said that only idiots would kill civilians. I think he could have used a worse word. He actually wanted to say that he fought other gangs with his gang and that it was about territorial claims and the money from the gambling dens and brothels. It was important to him that I realized that he had not harmed or killed innocent people.
What made John Willis human for you and how will you remember him?
We didn't really talk about his wife and daughter in great detail, but during the interview, tears came to him when he said how much he would miss them. That really puzzled me because I always thought that John was cold-hearted, numb and hardy. I don't mean to throw the word psychopath into the room here, but he doesn't have a guilty conscience about his crimes. Such a thing just doesn't exist for him. But when it came to love and relationships, he somehow became a different person before me. That was so extraordinary for me because it is in complete contrast to what otherwise defines his personality and his criminal past.
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