The Department of Justice charged six Chinese nationals for conspiring to distribute cocaine and laundering funds to Mexican drug traffickers, including the notorious Sinaloa cartel.
The superseding indictment, filed Sept. 24 and unsealed Thursday, covers nearly four years of investigation into links between foreign drug trafficking organizations and Asian money laundering networks in the U.S., China and elsewhere.
“These individuals went to great lengths to conceal their alleged criminal activities and further schemes that enabled drug cartels to push their poisons on our communities and launder their illicit proceeds,” said Wendy Woolcock, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Operations Division. “Despite these efforts, they could not evade detection by U.S. law enforcement. DEA, along with our partners, will continue to arrest and bring to justice transnational criminals like these, who facilitate and profit from the vicious global drug trade.”
Xizhi Li, 45; Jianxing Chen, 40; Jiayu Chen, 46; Jingyuan Li, 47; and Tao Liu, 45; are accused of distributing at least 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine, as well as knowing and intending that such amount will illegally be imported to the U.S.
The five suspects, along with Eric Yong Woo, 43, are also accused of using casinos, front companies, foreign and domestic bank accounts, and bulk cash smuggling to funnel illicit money to traffickers in Latin America, identified as “often Mexicans.”
Additionally, Liu is accused of trying to bribe a State Department official to create passports that he and his associates can use to enter the country.
Federal prosecutors allege that the suspects received drug money, used them to purchase U.S. goods, resold those goods in China and then used profits to buy Chinese goods, which were then shipped to Latin American merchants who resold them through “apparently legitimate businesses.”
Individuals who carry out such transactions are compensated based on the success of their operations, as well as the amount of money involved.
The scheme, which lasted from 2008 to late last month, earned the suspects at least $30 million.
“The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations that distribute contraband, launder illicit proceeds, and attempt to corrupt our society,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt for the Criminal Division. “I would like to recognize the extraordinary efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and our federal law enforcement partners for taking down a criminal organization that laundered drug proceeds for the Mexican cartels. Drug traffickers and money launderers operate globally, but this investigation demonstrates that they will be brought to justice wherever they are found.”
All suspects are in custody save for Jianxing Chen, who is believed to reside in Belize.
If convicted of drug trafficking, the suspects will face a sentence of 10 years to life imprisonment. Money laundering, on the other hand, carries a penalty of up to 20 years.
Liu, who is also charged with four counts of attempted identity fraud and four counts of bribery, may additionally face up to 15 years per count.
Feature Image (Representation Only) via U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration / Instagram