Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Case of the Snakehead Queen Chinese Human Smuggler Gets 35 Years

The Case of the Snakehead Queen

Chinese Human Smuggler

 Gets 35 Years


Golden Venture cargo ship runs aground (AP Photo)
Cargo ship used for human smuggling
runs aground in New York. AP Photo

She was once one of the most powerful underworld figures in New York. To her associates and followers, she was “the Mother of all Snakeheads” (that’s criminal slang for human smugglers). In Chinatown, she was affectionately called “Sister Ping.” Now, following Thursday’s sentencing in a U.S. District Court, Cheng Chui Ping faces 35 years in jail.
Her crimes? Extensive…and lucrative. For more than a decade, Cheng smuggled as many as 3,000 illegal immigrants from her native China into the U.S.—collecting more than $40 million from immigrants by charging upwards of $40,000.
Her methods? Brutal. Cheng allowed some customers to pay part of their fee, but once in the U.S. they were held or threatened with violence until the balance was paid. Cheng often employed the notoriously violent Fuk Chin Gang for muscle.
Conditions aboard the smuggling vessels were often inhumane. In June 1993, a rickety cargo ship named the Golden Venture (pictured above) carrying some 300 illegal immigrants ran aground off the coast of Queens, New York, after a miserable three-month voyage. Ten immigrants, including one of Sister Ping’s customers, drowned while trying to swim to safety.
We knew about Cheng before the Golden Venture tragedy. In fact, she had been arrested for alien smuggling and had been an informant against other smugglers. All the while, she continued to run her own operations. It was our efforts to break the Fuk Chin Gang that led to Cheng’s downfall. Some members of the gang cooperated with our investigation into her activities, leading to her indictment in 1994.
Cheng—once an illegal immigrant herself—started her smuggling service shortly after she entered the U.S. in 1981. Her business flourished and she joined with other snakeheads to buy ships that could carry more desperate immigrants at a time. During the early 1990s, she ruled her enterprise from a variety store in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Using her illegal proceeds, she also ran a legitimate travel agency and real estate company. Many customers were illegal aliens she’d smuggled into the country. At the height of her operations, she owned restaurants, a clothing store, and real estate in Chinatown, as well as apartments in Hong Kong and a farm in South Africa.
After her indictment, Cheng fled to China, where she continued to run a smuggling operation. In April 2000, Hong Kong police on the lookout for the FBI arrested her at the airport. Cheng fought extradition to this country, but was eventually delivered to the U.S. in July 2003. By the time she arrived here, we had put together a witness list of 25 people for her trial from around the world, including Guatemala, Canada, the U.S., and Hong Kong. She was convicted in New York less than two years later on multiple counts, including money laundering, conspiracy to commit alien smuggling, and other smuggling-related offenses.
Thanks to the work of the Hong Kong Police, our New York field office, our Legal Attaché in Hong Kong, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, justice has finally been served for the many victims of Sister Ping.

Cheng Chui Ping: 'Mother of 

all snakeheads'
Cheng Chui Ping in court in the US
Cheng Chui Ping was extradited after her capture in Hong Kong
US authorities say the jailing of Cheng Chui Ping for 35 years puts one of the world's most prolific human traffickers - or "snakeheads" - behind bars.

Cheng was convicted for organising the voyage of the Golden Venture, which had about 300 Chinese immigrants on board when it ran aground off New York in 1993. Ten of them died after being pitched into the sea.

Cheng, 57, is thought to have been responsible for the smuggling of many thousands of illegal immigrants.
Many new arrivals to New York's Chinatown in the 1990s would have owed their passage - and a great deal of money - to Cheng.
She became one of the most recognisable and revered figures in Chinatown - known as Sister Ping, or Big Sister Ping.
Front businesses
Cheng was an illegal immigrant herself. Born in 1949 in the poor farming village of Shengmei in Fujian province, she left her husband and family behind and set out for the West, travelling via Hong Kong and Canada before ending up in New York in 1981.
She entered business straight away, opening a grocery store, and starting on other ventures, but the US authorities say many of these became fronts for her people trafficking business.
Chinese immigrants intercepted in Canada
Thousands of Chinese have attempted to reach North America
Behind her Yeung Sun restaurant at 47 East Broadway, she ran a money-transfer service that undercut high street banks, providing fund transfers for many thousands of immigrants.
Prosecutors said her smuggling network was worth $40m (£23m) at its peak, and that immigrants could be charged tens of thousands of dollars for their passage.
"Aliens", as they are termed in the US, were crammed into planes, cars and trucks with fake floors, or would spend months in squalid conditions in shipping containers.
False identity
Business boomed in the early 1990s as, following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, the US offered all Chinese students in the US the chance to stay. Thousands flooded in, using false papers to claim their place.
Court papers claimed she had been caught in connection with people smuggling and had agreed to work as an informant for the FBI, but that this did not put her off, and she only expanded her activities.
However, the tragedy of the Golden Venture raised the stakes, and US investigators were soon on her tail.
She returned to China in 1994, and with the FBI closing in she could not return to the US. At least, not under her real name. Officials estimate she made several trips under false identities until she was finally captured at Hong Kong airport in April 2000, carrying three different passports.
In a US court, she claimed she was innocent and only acted under threats from Triad gangs.
"I did not have the ability to arrange for them to be smuggled. When they were short of money, I lent it to them... I was taken advantage of a lot in Chinatown," she said.
However prosecutors dubbed her "the mother of all snakeheads", and said she was "one of the biggest... and most successful alien smugglers of all time".