Two sentenced in smuggling scheme

January 12, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

Two Chinese nationals convicted in a scheme to smuggle 100 of their countrymen into the United States were sentenced yesterday to prison and will likely face deportation.

U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin sentenced Chong Chao Chen, 24, and Chang Han Chen, 21 -- identified as a "middle management" alien smuggler and a captive turned guard -- to 26 and 14 years in prison respectively.

The men were convicted Oct. 14 for their role in smuggling more than 100 Chinese men, whom they held captive for $20,000 to $28,000 ransom in the basement of a house in Prince George's County.

Lawyers for both men said they planned to appeal the sentences.

The smuggled immigrants said their captors refused to release them until relatives in New York paid the full smuggling fees. Federal agents who raided the house on April 5 found 53 aliens living in a squalid basement.

Federal investigators say this incident seems to be related to similar cases of shipboard smuggling on the East and West coasts.

Chao Chen and Han Chen were found guilty of kidnapping, hostage taking, transporting aliens and other federal charges. Three other defendants in the smuggling case pleaded guilty during the four-week trial and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Sentencing dates for those people, Luo Xiao Xiang, Chong Li Chen and Zai Lin Chen, have not been set.

Chao Chen asked Judge Smalkin for mercy.

"I just act as a minor in that case," Chao Chen said through an interpreter. Adding that he also paid more than $20,000 to come to America, Chao Chen told the judge, "My mother sent me here wishing me to get a better life."

But Judge Smalkin said Chao Chen was in the smuggling ring's "middle management." Chao Chen hung his head when the judge told him he would impose the lowest sentence possible under federal sentencing guidelines.

Han Chen, who became an armed guard over fellow immigrants, showed little reaction when he was sentenced earlier in the morning.

"I don't want to say anything," Han Chen said through an interpreter before the judge read his sentence, also at the low end of federal guidelines.

A group of 105 smuggled immigrants arrived aboard a ship off Cape May, N.J., in March, according to Immigration and Naturalization Service investigators. Instead of being released, the aliens were transported by van to the Mitchellville home of Chong Hua Chen, who owns Chinese carryout restaurants. There, they were forced to call relatives to beg them for money to pay off the smuggling costs.

They were held at gunpoint in the basement, according to testimony during the trial.

"There are a number of organizations that are involved in smuggling aliens via boat," said Kevin F. Murray, acting assistant district director for investigations in the INS' Baltimore office.

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