Editor’s Note: The following story demonstrates the nationwide scope in the U.S. of counterfeit cigarette trafficking by transnational criminal organizations. Another lesson from the story is that illicit cigarette trafficking supports other crimes such as drug trafficking.
Kit Poon, 42, of Baldwin Park is among eleven Los Angeles-area residents charged in a federal indictment unsealed today in New York.
Eleven Los Angeles-area residents, including one from Baldwin Park, are among 37 defendants charged in a federal indictment unsealed today in New York targeting a Southeast Asian marijuana and counterfeit cigarette trafficking organization that operated nationwide.
Prosecutors allege members of the ring conspired to produce and distribute more than $45 million worth of marijuana and illegally distribute nearly 44 million cigarettes, resulting in more than $7 million in lost tax revenue.
According to court documents, the Los Angeles-area defendants fulfilled a variety of roles in the ring.
Several were involved in growing pot, while others oversaw transportation or served as money couriers, federal prosecutors allege.
Nine of the 11 Los Angeles-area defendants were arrested early today by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.
They are: — Paul Coong Lay, 47, of Monterey Park, who along with his brother allegedly oversaw the ring’s marijuana grow operations; — Steven Qu, 54, of Pomona, owner of Los Angeles-area trucking company Super Quality Logistics; — Rocky Kuo, 61, of Temple City; — Fu Chan Chuong, 48, of Temple City; — Jia Yuan, 33, of San Gabriel; — Zhu He Wang, 56, of Temple City; — Hung Ho, 42, of Los Angeles; — Kit Poon, 42, of Baldwin Park; and — Qui Sam Ho, 37, of Westminster. Two other local defendants being sought were identified as Yun Xing, 30, Qu’s wife, and Jonathan Fierro, 24, of Los Angeles.
In addition to the arrests, agents raided a pot-growing house in Rosemead and seized nearly 50 pounds of pot and about $50,000 in cash, officials said.
“Today’s arrests deal a blow to an organization that allegedly conspired to manufacture multimillion-dollar quantities of marijuana that they would then distribute, along with millions of contraband cigarettes nationwide,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“Thanks to the coordinated efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement around the country, this alleged supply chain has been effectively broken.”
Court documents allege that, from at least 2010 to the present, the defendants were part of a nationwide group that grew marijuana and distributed it, as well as black-market cigarettes.
Paul Coong Lay and his brother Chan Coong Lay, of Fresno, allegedly maintained a network of pot-growing spots in California and elsewhere.
In October, based on surveillance of the brothers, law enforcement officers raided a site near Porterville and seized more than 200 pounds of ready-to-sell pot and about 185 plants.
Pot grown by the Lay brothers, along with cigarettes, was shipped to other parts of the country using a Los Angeles-area transportation company –Super Quality Logistics, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. That company is owned and operated by Steven Qu and his wife Yun Xing, prosecutors contend.
The group allegedly used financial institutions to launder its proceeds, officials said.
Authorities seized more than 25 banks accounts allegedly used by the ring to launder money, including accounts belonging to Super Quality Logistics. A number of vehicles, including several Super Quality Logistics tractor-trailers were also seized, according to federal prosecutors.