U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Virginia
For Immediate Release
November 5, 2009
Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney
Contact: Peter Carr, Public Information Officer
(703) 549-5202 (fax)
Fourteen Charged with Allegedly Paying $8 Million for Contraband Cigarettes
Complaint Alleges Two Conspired on a Murder-for-Hire Scheme as Payback for Stolen Cigarettes
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Fourteen individuals were charged today with allegedly paying or trading more than $8 million, nearly 40 firearms, and drugs to purchase 388,000 cartons - totalling more than 77 million contraband cigarettes - to sell in New York. In addition, two conspirators allegedly agreed to pay $15,000 to hire a hitman to kill a man and wife whom the conspirators believed were involved in stealing more than 15,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes. Today’s announcement is a result of a 14-month investigation begun by the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office.
Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Charles E. Jett, Stafford County Sheriff; and Phillip M. Durham, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Washington Field Division, made the announcement after the defendants were taken into custody and the criminal complaint was unsealed. The defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearance at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., later today before United States Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis.
“This complaint clearly exposes the dangers in contraband cigarette trafficking,” said U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride. “The alleged crimes go far beyond illegal cigarettes, but also involve drugs, guns, and a plot to murder. We’re grateful for the courageous undercover agents who made today’s arrests possible.”
“I am proud of my detectives and the other law enforcement professionals who were instrumental in developing and bringing to conclusion this case,” said Sheriff Charles Jett. “This investigation was complicated and dangerous and required long hours of hard work, dedication and perseverance. It is our hope that these arrests send a clear message to others that these alleged crimes will not be tolerated in Stafford County.”
“Contraband cigarette trafficking investigations are a high priority for the Washington Field Division,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Phillip Durham. “Oftentimes these investigations expose additional violent crimes as well as violations of the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act, as today’s complaint alleges, and prior investigations have shown.”
Contraband cigarette trafficking carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and not more than three years supervised release. Those charged with contraband cigarette trafficking include:
- Wen Mei Zhou, aka Joyce, 33, of Hampton, Va.
- Ada Mei Lam, aka Mei, 46, of Fairfax, Va.
- Ting Seng Lin, aka Sam, 44, of Springfield, Va.
- Jin X. Chen, aka Jim, 37, of Frederick, Md.
- Chi Kin Pong, aka Jimmy, 33, of Stafford, Va.
- Qui Xia Chen, aka Chanel, 30, of Annandale, Va.
- Tony Pong, 44, of Falls Church, Va.
- Lin Xiao, aka Leo, 29, of Centreville, Va.
- Chi Kin Yuen, aka Thomas, 49, of Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Si Lin, aka Leo, 25, of Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Wen Chuan Chen, aka Chan, 38, of Germantown, Md.
- Pin Zong Lin, aka Lee, 36, of Washington, D.C.
In addition, Xing Xiao, aka Andy, 32, of Fairfax, Va., was charged with conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base, and Chen X. Jiang, aka Jay, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was charged today with knowingly and unlawfully possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug offense. The drug charge carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, and the firearm charge carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 5 years in prison. Both charges have a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Cigarettes are considered contraband if more than 10,000 bear no evidence that state or local taxes have been paid. This is typically shown through tax stamps placed at the bottom of each pack of cigarettes, which, as of July 2009, cost $4.25 in New York City. With each carton containing 10 packs of 20 cigarettes, the affidavits claim that those trafficking contraband cigarettes potentially earn $42.50 for each carton of contraband cigarettes sold in New York City.
An affidavit unsealed today claims that from July 2008 to October 2009, the defendants allegedly paid or traded $8 million, approximately 160 grams of cocaine base, approximately 39 firearms - including assault rifles - and more than 32,000 pills purported to be ecstasy (MDMA) in exchange for approximately 388,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes from undercover law enforcement agents from the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office and ATF. The affidavit also alleges that the defendants sold or traded more than 275,000 fraudulent Virginia and New York State cigarette tax stamps.
According to the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, the ecstasy seizures are a record for the Stafford region, possessing a street value of approximately $800,000. In the Stafford region, each ecstasy pill has a street value between $15 to $25.
In May 2009, the affidavit alleges that Xiao purchased or traded for 15,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes, which undercover law enforcement had placed in a rented storage facility in Stafford County, Va. Later, Xiao informed the agents that someone had stolen the contraband from the storage facility, and through a series of discussions allegedly contracted with the undercover agents to hire a hitman to kill the man suspected of the theft, along with the man’s wife.
According to the affidavit, Xiao was incarcerated from June 2009 to September 2009, and Jiang allegedly continued to work with the undercover agents in identifying the intended targets, including meeting with the agents in New York to provide information about the targets’ residence, vehicle, and daily routines. In October 2009, Jiang allegedly paid the undercover agent posing as a hitman $7,000 on Xiao’s behalf, with a promise of $8,000 to come in the future.
This morning, law enforcement took approximately 25 individuals into custody at sites in Stafford and Fairfax Counties, including nine of those charged in today’s complaint. Those not named in today’s complaint were arrested on state charges. In addition to the items seized previously in the investigation, law enforcement today recovered approximately $1.2 million, 50,000 ecstasy pills, one firearm and 100,000 counterfeit tax stamps.
Five individuals - Jin X. Chen, Chi Kin Pong, Qui Xia Chen, Chi Kin Yuen and Si Lin -are still at large. Anyone with information about them should call the ATF at 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867). If you see any of these individuals, DO NOT APPROACH THEM. Write down a description and any vehicle information and contact police or the ATF.
The investigation was conducted by ATF and the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the Fairfax County Police Department, Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Office of Investigations in Washington, D.C. Assistant United States Attorney Steve Mellin and Special Assistant United States Attorney Patrick McDade, who is on detail from the Arlington County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.
Criminal complaints are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.
A copy of this press release may be found on the websites of the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae and the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office at www.staffordsheriff.com. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.uspci.uscourts.gov.