Calif man gets 25 years for missile-smuggling plot

AP News
Posted: May 09, 2011 5:01 PM
Calif man gets 25 years for missile-smuggling plot

The first person indicted under a federal anti-terrorism law adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison for attempting to smuggle anti-aircraft missiles into the United States from his native China.

Yi Qing Chen of Rosemead was convicted in October of attempting to ship the shoulder-fired QW2 missiles as well as launch and operational hardware to a man who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent. He was arrested in 2005 before the missiles could be delivered.

"The defendant's willingness to smuggle surface-to-air missiles into this country or anywhere is a frightening concept because there can be no confusion as to the purpose of such contraband," said Steven Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office.

In passing sentence, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer said Chen "never saw a criminal scheme he didn't want a part of."

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was the first person indicted under a federal anti-terrorism statute adopted in 2004 as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The law, which banned the importation of missile systems designed to destroy aircraft, calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years and a maximum of life in prison without parole.

Chen, 49, was among dozens of people arrested as the result of Operation Smoking Dragon, an undercover FBI investigation that targeted those suspected of trying to smuggle counterfeit currency, drugs and other contraband into the United States.

Authorities said the arrests have resulted in nearly three dozen convictions in Los Angeles.

Evidence presented at Chen's trial, including tape-recorded conversations, showed he and a fellow conspirator, who has since died, told the FBI agent they had been involved in trafficking drugs, counterfeit cigarettes and other items from China. The agent was told they could supply as many as 200 anti-aircraft missiles.

Chen was also convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine and of trafficking in counterfeit and contraband cigarettes. He was ordered to pay $520,000 to tobacco company Philip Morris USA.