Accused Smuggler of Immigrants Awaits Verdict

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

NEW YORK, June 13 -- A woman illegally shipped thousands of Chinese people into the United States, running a multimillion-dollar smuggling empire, prosecutors said in closing arguments at her trial Monday.

Cheng Chui Ping, 56, also known as "Sister Ping," laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars to traffic illegal immigrants over almost two decades, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Brown told a federal jury in Manhattan.

"Sister Ping had scores of people in several different countries to move her human cargo for her," Brown said. "Sister Ping was a big-time alien smuggler."

Cheng's lawyer, Lawrence Hochheiser, said she was operating an international banking business and was the subject of "a long conspiracy theory" by the government.

"This was a credit union, this . . . is being used to tie Cheng Chui Ping with alien smuggling," he said.

The government's evidence was taken "from the scraps of the cutting-room floor of other investigations," including those of convicted Chinese gang members who testified against Cheng during the month-long trial, he said.

Cheng, a native of China, is charged with conspiracy to commit immigrant smuggling, hostage taking and money laundering.

If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Brown said Cheng sent at least $300,000 of her smuggling proceeds to Thailand to finance the 1992 voyage of a ship, Golden Venture. It ran aground off New York in June 1993, and 10 people drowned trying to swim ashore.

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