Robert Li was the son of John and Yee-ling Li and the brother of Mia-ling Li. The family lived together in the Larchmont section of central Los Angeles. The family owned and operated two liquor stores. Robert managed Fortune Fine Foods & Liquor in Sherman Oaks while his father managed Fortune Liquor in the Normandie area of south-central L.A. Robert's store was larger and very upscale, consistent with its location on Sepulveda Boulevard, one block south of Ventura Boulevard. Robert graduated with honors in Business from the University of Southern California. While at USC he had two roommates, Henry Lau and Eugene Lam. After Robert took over management of the Sherman Oaks store he hired Lam as assistant manager.
Robert believed that the store on Normandie should be sold or closed because it was far less profitable and in a dangerous neighborhood. His father did not agree, and this was the source of explosive tensions within the family. In 2009 Robert and his sister conspired to murder their father. Robert hired Lam to do the killing and to make it look like a robbery. Harry Bosch and David Chu eventually focused on Robert and on 17 September 2009 were prepared to arrest him.