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News Release[print-friendly page]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: DEA Public Affairs
202-307-7977

September 28, 2005

Guilty Verdict Relating to Murder of Two DEA Agents
17 years later, Michael Chia again found guilty of the murders of SA Seema and SA Montoya

SA George Montoya
SA Paul S. Seema

SEP 28--Today, justice was again served in the Pasadena District Courthouse of Los Angeles County, with the conviction of Michael Chia, 17 years after his original conviction for the senseless murder of Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agents Paul S. Seema and George M. Montoya, and the serious wounding of Special Agent Jose Martinez. The Los Angeles Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, in conjunction with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office prevailed after the lengthy re-trail of Michael Chia. Deputy District Attorney Darrell Mavis stated, “I am very happy that this jury came to the same conclusion that a jury did in 1988. This jury found Mr. Chia guilty of the murder of two DEA Special Agents and the attempted murder of another.”

In early 1988, DEA lost two treasured members of the DEA family during an undercover operation in Los Angeles. Special Agents Montoya and Seema, members of the Los Angeles Division’s Southeast Asia Heroin Task Force, had earned the respect and admiration of their colleagues. George Montoya was considered a keen and thorough investigator. Paul Seema was beloved for his ability to look beyond the horrors of the drug war.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Stephen C. Delgado stated, "Justice was served today. This conviction is tremendously gratifying for agents past and present, as well as the families of George Montoya and Paul Seema. The DEA will continue to aggressively pursue those members of our society who bring violence and drugs into our communities. I congratulate DDA Darrell Mavis and the staff of the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office for their outstanding prosecution in this case".
On February 5, 1988, SAs Martinez, Montoya, and Seema were contacted by Frank Kow, a well-known drug dealer, who had conducted two small heroin purchases from SA Seema several months earlier. The agents agreed to meet Kow at a local restaurant in Monterey Park that morning to consummate the purchase of two pounds of heroin for $80,000. The transaction went as planned until, after driving away in an undercover vehicle, the agents were suddenly directed by Kow to pull over to the side of the road in front of a home. There, SAs Martinez, Montoya, and Seema were ambushed. After the agents had handed over the money to Kow, he and his accomplices who had followed in a separate vehicle, opened fire on the agents, killing SAs Montoya and Seema (who succumbed from his wounds the following day) and severely wounding SA Martinez. After a lengthy, high-speed pursuit through the community of San Marino, Kow and his co-conspirator Mike Chen were fatally shot by responding DEA agents and officers of the Monterey Park Police Department. The remaining suspect present at the shooting, William Wei Wang, suffered multiple gunshot wounds but survived.

A fourth suspect, Michael Chia, was not present at the shooting, but he was arrested soon after near the restaurant that had served as the original meeting location. Chia’s intimate interaction with the conspirators during the hours preceding the shootings and his actual involvement in the plot to rob and kill the agents were debated extensively during his trial in 1988. By late year, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury convicted the 20-year old Chia of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and second degree robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. Chia was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison. William Wang received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. It appeared that justice had been rendered in this case. On February 28, 2002, the Ninth Circuit Court overturned Chia’s original conviction and ordered that Chia’s appeal be granted unless he was allowed a new trial within a reasonable period of time.
On March 10, 2003, the United States Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s reversal of Chia’s conviction, and remanded it back to them for reconsideration. Almost a year later, the Ninth Circuit affirmed its previous ruling in People v. Chia when it ruled that Chia’s due process rights were violated. The Court again ruled that Chia be granted a new trial. Several months after this decision, the United States Supreme Court denied the California Attorney General’s petition to review the Chia case. The new trial of Michael Chia began on August 2, 2005.

The decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the Chia conviction was a heart-breaking development for DEA, surviving family members, and those who care about the execution of justice. Although this decision presented a challenge to DEA, the Los Angeles Division was determined to overcome this painful setback and do everything possible to ensure that Michael Chia received the punishment he deserved. DEA would stand for nothing less.

Other agencies participating in the investigation included the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement, the Monterey Park Police Department, the Pasadena Police Department, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Please forward any questions to DEA Los Angeles Public Information Officer Sarah Beers at (213) 621-6827.

Administrator Tandy's Statement on the Conviction of Michael Chia>>

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