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Anti-aircraft missile smuggler sentenced to 25 years

May 9, 2011 | 12:32 pm

The first person indicted in a plot to smuggle anti-aircraft missiles into the United States after the 9/11 attacks was sentenced Monday in Los Angeles federal court to 25 years in prison.

Yi Qing Chen, 49, of Rosemead received the sentence from U.S. District Court Judge Dale S. Fischer, who described the defendant as someone who “never saw a criminal scheme he didn’t want a part of.”

A federal jury convicted Chen last October of five felony charges: conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine; distribution of cocaine; trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes (about 800,000 cases); trafficking in contraband cigarettes; and conspiracy to import missile systems designed to destroy aircraft.

Prosecutors told jurors that Chen conspired to smuggle Chinese-made QW-2 shoulder-fired missiles into the United States and was convicted under a 2004 law.

“Mr. Chen was the first person in the nation to be indicted for plotting to smuggle anti-aircraft missiles into the United States after the 9/11 attacks,” said U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. “The 25-year sentence imposed today appropriately reflects the severity of the threat this conspiracy posed to the security of the United States.”

Chen’s arrest and conviction stemmed from Operation Smoking Dragon, an FBI-led undercover investigation into smuggling operations in Southern California.

The investigation netted 87 people on charges related to international conspiracies to smuggle counterfeit U.S. currency, drugs and other contraband into the United States.

In 2006, a man who conspired with Chen pleaded guilty in relation to various smuggling plots, including the scheme to bring the surface-to-air missiles into the United States. Chao Tung Wu died while awaiting sentencing and before Chen was brought to trial.

The evidence in the case showed that Chen and Wu met with an undercover FBI agent and agreed to arrange the importation of shoulder-fired QW-2 missiles, as well as launch and operation hardware for the missiles, from China.

The missiles were never delivered because Wu and Chen were arrested in 2005 before the deal was concluded.

“Recordings played during trial, of defendant [Chen] and Wu, included discussions that they had engaged in a wide range of criminal activity, including narcotics and counterfeit cigarette trafficking and shipping vehicles to China in containers where documents fraudulently identified their contents,” prosecutors wrote in papers filed in court prior to Monday's sentencing.

In addition to the 25-year prison term, Fischer ordered Chen to pay $520,000 to Philip Morris for the counterfeit cigarettes smuggled into the United States.


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-- Richard Winton