Two charged with smuggling Chinese

April 12, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

Two Chinese nationals denied yesterday involvement in an alleged scheme to smuggle dozens of Chinese freedom-seekers into the country and hold them for ransom in suburban Prince George's County.

Both were ordered held without bail by Magistrate Judge Paul M. Rosenberg during hearings in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

They are accused of making hostages of Chinese nationals, some of whom claim they were beaten and threatened with death while held in a single-family home in Mitchellville. One hostage said captors threatened to cut off his hands.

Chong Hua Chen, 41, and Chong Chao Chen, 24, of Mitchellville, face a range of federal charges, including bringing aliens into the United States, harboring aliens, kidnapping and hostage-taking.

Authorities were uncertain whether the men are related, although the elder man is believed to be the other man's father.

The men were among 63 Chinese taken into custody during an April 5 raid on the Mitchellville home, a raid that left federal agents and prosecutors struggling to distinguish the hostages from the smugglers.

Affidavits filed by an FBI agent identified the men as "captors" because they were in the United States legally and had no reason to be smuggled in. The elder man owns two carry-out grocery stores in suburban Washington.

According to the affidavits, an unidentified person agreed with smugglers to have five Chinese residents brought into the country illegally for $8,000 apiece. The person later was told that he would have to pay $30,800 for each hostage's release.

Hostages were allowed to give relatives in the United States a beeper number for their captors, the affidavits said. Once paged, the captors would return calls and allow hostages to speak to the relatives.

The FBI learned that a boat containing about 110 illegal aliens from China had landed off the Virginia coast last month, according to the affidavit, which said phone calls and threats were made between March 20 and the April 5 raid. The raid uncovered three handguns, one short-barreled shotgun, three cellular phones and six sets of handcuffs.

Andrew G. W. Norman, an assistant U.S. attorney, would not say whether others arrested by the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Services would be charged. He said, "Further proceedings are expected."

During his hearing, Chong Chao Chen answered questions posed by Judge Rosenberg through a translator. At one point, he denied committing the acts.

"He said he didn't do it," the translator told the judge.

Ricardo D. Zwaig, a federal public defender representing the elder man, said prosecutors are trying to build a case on innuendo and circumstantial evidence. He said his client has been in the United States legally since 1986.

Mr. Zwaig said his client was there to deliver food from his restaurant and was not holding hostages.

Those identified as victims face deportation.

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