United States: man sentenced for trying to smuggle missiles from China

by Reuters

A California man who was the first person indicted under a law passed after the September 11, 2001 attacks that bans importing missiles able to shoot down airplanes, was sentenced on Monday to 25 years in prison

 Chen was convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, distribution of cocaine, trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes and conspiracy to import missile systems designed to destroy aircraft. He was given the sentence of 25 years by U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer during a hearing on Monday in federal court in Los Angeles. Fischer also ordered Chen to pay $520,000 in restitution. Wu, who pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from the case in 2006, died while awaiting sentencing.

Yi Qing Chen, 49, was also the final defendant to be sentenced in a wide-ranging, FBI-led undercover investigation dubbed Operation Smoking Dragon that targeted California-based criminal smuggling operations, prosecutors said.

Chen was found guilty by a federal jury in Los Angeles last October, after a two-week trial, of conspiracy to smuggle shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles from China into the United States, along with other charges.

"Mr. Chen was the first person in the nation to be indicted for plotting to smuggle anti-aircraft missiles into the United States after the 9/11 attacks," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement released after the sentencing.

"The 25-year sentence imposed today appropriately reflects the severity of the threat this conspiracy posed to the security of the United States," he said

Chen and a co-defendant, Chao Tung Wu, both naturalized U.S. citizens, were among 87 people indicted in 2005. Prosecutors said they were part of an international conspiracy to smuggle drugs, counterfeit U.S. currency and other contraband into the United States.

In November of that year, Chen and Wu were indicted on additional charges of conspiring to smuggle shoulder-fired, surface-to-air QW-2 missiles into the United States, becoming the first defendants indicted under an anti-terrorism statute enacted in December of 2004.

Prosecutors said the pair met with an undercover FBI agent and agreed to arrange the importation of the missiles from China, along with launch and operation hardware.