Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2011
Yi Qing Chen was convicted last October of trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes, distributing drugs and conspiring to import missiles. He was sentenced Monday to 25 years in federal prison.
On the surface, Yi Qing Chen appeared to be a straight-laced businessman exporting plastic junk from the United States to China.
Secretly, Chen was a smuggler willing to sneak into the U.S. whatever would fit into 40-foot shipping containers–whether it was fake Marlboros, or ultimately, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles capable of targeting F-15 or F-16 fighter jets, authorities say.
Chen, who was convicted last October of trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes, distributing drugs and conspiring to import missiles, was sentenced Monday to 25 years in federal prison.
The 49-year-old Rosemead man became the first to be convicted under a 2004 anti-terrorism statute that outlawed the importation of missile systems made to target aircraft, enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. The statute carries a mandatory 25-year minimum prison term.
Chen’s attorney did not return requests for comment Monday. In statements to investigators, Chen maintained that he had lied about the weapons and had planned on fleeing to China after scamming his business partner and an undercover agent posing as a buyer, according to court papers.
The FBI-led operation that resulted in Chen’s conviction–dubbed Smoking Dragon– began in 2002 with a tip about a cigarette-smuggling ring.
Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen, “was open to procuring and smuggling whatever contraband was available,” prosecutors wrote in court papers. “It was simply a matter of expediency. Namely, whatever contraband was first available for smuggling and profit would be smuggled and sold.”
Steven Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI office in Los Angeles, called Chen’s willingness to smuggle weapons “a frightening concept.”
“There can be no confusion as to the purpose of such contraband–nor to the potentially horrific consequences for innocent people,” he said, according to a statement.
In addition to his prison sentence, Chen was also ordered to pay $520,000 to Philip Morris U.S.A. Inc. for the counterfeit cigarettes.