Ninety-nine years ago today Tom Lee, the unofficial “Mayor of Chinatown” and head of the On Leong Tong was arrested while eating his lunch. The charge? Gasp! Why there was gambling going on in that (at the time) tiny little district encompassing Mott, Doyers and Pell streets.
The police were given evidence that Lee was paid tribute to the tune of $15 per gambling table in his bailiwick each week and that there were 95 tables. Not bad. Where did the police get their info? From Mock Duck, Lee’s chief rival and top dog in the Hip Sing tong.
It also came out that Lee didn’t actually keep all of that gambling loot either, that some of it was, surprise!, kicked upstairs to politicians. My, my who’d a thunk it.
Mock Duck may have thought he was being pretty foxy but he was also arrested. Turns out during a previous arrest for an old murder charge he had promised to leave town if given bail. So he was released and came back and apparently forgot about his promise.
Both Tong leaders were forced to sit down for a forty-five minute lecture from the Police Commissioner in which they were told that gambling in Chinatown had to stop and that they had to stop carrying guns around as well. Both Tong men assured the Commissioner that his wishes would be granted and they walked out together smiling as if they were old chums.