Rosemead by convicted of plotting to smuggle shoulder-fired missiles into U.S.

LOS ANGELES — A federal jury Wednesday convicted a Rosemead man of five smuggling-related counts, including conspiring to smuggle 200 shoulder-fired missiles capable of destroying airplanes into the U.S.
Yi Qing Chen, 46, faces at least 25 years in federal prison when he returns to court Feb. 7 to be sentenced by United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. He could receive life in prison without the possibility of parole.
He was one of 34 defendants in the Los Angeles area and 87 on the East Coast targeted in a multi-agency undercover investigation called, “Operation Smoking Dragon,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bonnie Hobbs said.
“They were a group of opportunists that would smuggle anything for money,” she said.
Chen was convicted of conspiracy to import the missiles under a 2004 anti-terrorism statute specifically designed to prevent the importation of missile systems designed to destroy aircraft. It was the first case charged and the first conviction won under the new law.
The heat-seeking missiles — Chinese-made QW-2 missiles — are capable of taking down an airliner upon take-off or landing, Hobbs said. The small size of the deadly system makes it even more dangerous.
“It can be carried around in a bag, basically. It’s easily portable,” she said.
In arranging the purchase, “An undercover FBI agent told them he was buying (the missiles) for a friend who was going to train mercenaries,” Hobbs said.
In addition for arranging to smuggle the missiles, Chen was also convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, distribution of cocaine, trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes and trafficking in contraband cigarettes, Mrozek said.
He was initially arrested in August of 2005, Hobbs added.
The investigation consisted of undercover FBI agents arranging to purchase contraband items from members of the criminal organization.
Drugs, counterfeit money and cigarettes were smuggled into the U.S., Hobbs said, however the arrests were made before the smugglers could bring the missiles into the country.
The investigation began more than five years ago as a probe into suspected cigarette smuggling, however investigators soon realized the group was smuggling much more than tobacco.
All of the other 34 West Coast-based defendants named in the indictment have been convicted, pleaded guilty or died, Hobbs said.
One of Chen’s co-defendants, Chao Tang Wu of La Puente, pleaded guilty in 2006 to smuggling charges, including the plot to smuggle Chinese missiles, Mrozek said.
Wu died of natural causes as he was awaiting sentencing, Hobbs said.
Another co-defendant, Wilson Liu of San Marino, is serving a 12-year prison sentence in connection with the case for smuggling extremely well-made counterfeit $100 bills known as “supernotes” to the U.S. for the group, Hobbs said.
As he was awaiting trial for the crime, she added, he was seen by investigators passing the fake bills at a Las Vegas casino.

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