Boston Chinatown restaurant served as front for global money laundering scheme, DOJ says

A family-owned restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown allegedly served as the headquarters of international money laundering and transmitting schemes that reaped tens of millions of dollars in proceeds from drug trafficking and the resale of Apple products.

Eight individuals have been indicted for their alleged roles in the schemes which were partly run at China Gourmet, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Former spouses Shi Rong Zhang, 48, and Qiu Mei Zeng, 47, co-own the restaurant.

Both Zhang and Zeng have been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and unlicensed money transmitting. Zhang’s Hanover-based electronics store, Wonderful Electronics, has also been used as a front for illicit transactions, as per court documents.

Vincent Feng, 32; Da Zeng, 30; Wei Qing Zeng, 58; Xian Rong Zeng, 45 and Qiu Fang Zeng, 59, face the same charges. Additionally, Chengzou Liu, 36, was indicted on conspiracy to commit money laundering and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

A months-long investigation exposed Liu as a marijuana trafficker who regularly delivered drug proceeds to China Gourmet and also to Qiu Mei Zeng, who then laundered those proceeds via electronic transfers. In March, investigators reportedly seized more than $250,000 of suspected marijuana proceeds from Wei Qing Zeng’s vehicle, which was en route to China Gourmet from New York.

The defendants allegedly acquired the drug proceeds in Boston and New York for a fee. They then transferred the proceeds’ equivalent in Chinese renminbi to the traffickers’ bank accounts and used a discounted exchange rate to “sell” the proceeds to U.S. customers.

The former spouses, Da Zeng, Feng and others also allegedly used stolen and/or fraudulent gift cards to buy thousands of Apple products, which were then sold and shipped globally. This scheme also allegedly earned them millions of dollars.

“These defendants are alleged to have moved tens of millions of dollars in illicit proceeds as part of sophisticated money laundering and transmitting schemes operating out of seemingly lawful businesses that serve Massachusetts residents,” U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins said in a statement. “Without money, there is no drug trade. Laundering drug profits is fundamental to drug trafficking activity. By eliminating the means by which drug suppliers clean their illicit proceeds, we cut off the life blood of their operations: money.”

Rollins added: “We need to do everything possible to make the Commonwealth safer and combat the drug crisis. This indictment should serve as a serious warning to both drug traffickers and business operators who engage in illicit money laundering: your conduct is criminal, and you will be prosecuted under federal law.”

Authorities dubbed the investigation “Operation Good Fortune.” Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Field Office, said money laundering and drug trafficking “go hand in hand.”

“This crew is accused of using their family-owned restaurant in Chinatown as a front for an elaborate, international money laundering scheme and money transmitting business in which they conducted tens of millions of dollars in off the books transactions to circumvent our country’s laws, and hide the source of their income. Operation Good Fortune is just one example of how the FBI and our law enforcement partners work together to dismantle large-scale criminal enterprises,” Bonavolonta said.

The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering comes with up to three years of supervised release, a sentence of up to 20 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the value of the property involved — whichever is greater. The charge of unlicensed money transmitting comes with up to three years of supervised release, a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana comes with at least three years and up to a lifetime of supervised release, a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. The charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and possession with intent to distribute marijuana carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison, while the charge of unlicensed money transmitting carries a sentence of up to five years.

According to the DOJ, these sentences “are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.”

Featured Image via WMUR-TV

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