Image via WikipediaLOS ANGELES—A Southern California man was convicted today on a series of federal charges related to schemes to smuggle many items into the United States, including surface-to-air missiles designed to shoot down aircraft.
Yi Qing Chen, 46, of Rosemead, California, was convicted of five felony counts by a federal jury that heard two weeks of testimony.
The evidence presented during the trial in United States District Court showed that Chen conspired to smuggle, among other things, Chinese-made QW-2 shoulder-fired missiles into the United States. The guilty verdict in relation to the missile plot is the nation’s first conviction at trial under an anti-terrorism statute that outlaws the importation of missile systems designed to destroy aircraft. Enacted in December 2004, the statute carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 25 years and the possibility of life without parole in federal prison.
The case against Chen is the result of Operation Smoking Dragon, an FBI-led undercover investigation into smuggling operations in Southern California. Smoking Dragon and a related investigation in New Jersey led to the indictment of 87 individuals on charges related to international conspiracies to smuggle counterfeit United States currency, drugs and other contraband into the United States. Operation Smoking Dragon resulted in four indictments in Los Angeles that named 34 defendants, all of whom have now been convicted.
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 (see: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/pressroom/pr2006/044.html). That co-defendant, Chao Tung Wu, died while pending sentencing.
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 the People’s Republic of China. The missiles were never delivered because Wu and Chen were arrested in 2005 before the deal was concluded.
Chen was convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, distribution of cocaine, trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, and conspiracy to import missile systems designed to destroy aircraft.
Chen is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer on February 7. At sentencing, Chen faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 25 years in federal prison for the conviction in the missile smuggling plot, and he faces a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison.
Operation Smoking Dragon was an investigation run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which received substantial assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The United States Secret Service assisted in the investigation in relation to the smuggling of counterfeit $100 bills called “Supernotes” that are believed to have been manufactured in North Korea.