Va. Man Details Immigrant Smuggling Ring: allegedly worked with one of the nation's largest immigration asylum law firms : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Va. Man Details Immigrant Smuggling Ring

By Brooke A. Masters Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, November 4, 2001; Page C03

A massive smuggling ring that brought thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants to the United States, often in appalling conditions, held many of their customers under armed guard in Alexandria hotels until the full fee for passage could be collected from the hostages' families.

Details of the ring, which allegedly worked with one of the nation's largest immigration asylum law firms, emerged yesterday as an Alexandria man was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the decade-long scheme.

Mark Kuang, 34, was initially recruited by the criminal syndicate to deliver a sales pitch about the glories of the United States to potential customers in China, according to his attorney, Kenneth Robinson. But Kuang soon became an organizer, shepherding some of the customers through their lengthy clandestine journey, serving as an intermediary with the law firm and ensuring that the immigrants' families made full payment.

Kuang told the court that "I didn't beat up anyone or hurt anyone." But Robinson acknowledged that his client was well aware that other members of the ring, known as "snakeheads," were committing violent acts and threatening some of the hostages.

Would-be immigrants paid the syndicate an escalating price, from $18,000 in 1991 to as much as $50,000 last year, to be smuggled from China to the United States on a circuitous route that could take anywhere from six months to two years, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Morton told U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee.

"This crime was particularly pernicious because of the manner in which the syndicate brought these people," Morton said. "They weren't free to leave. There were armed guards. They were disciplined. They were forced to travel in unsafe conditions. The syndicate had almost no regard for the safety and well-being of the people."

The smugglers brought at least 2,000 Chinese nationals into the United States, earning at least $60 million, according to a statement of facts filed with Kuang's guilty plea in federal court in Alexandria. The ring, which included at least 30 members around the world, initially smuggled customers by air through Japan and Saipan.

But by 1994, the syndicate had turned to a Caribbean route. The would-be immigrants -- called "ducks" by the smugglers -- would travel first by overloaded car or boat to Hong Kong, Cambodia or Vietnam, using false documents at border crossings. The aliens were then held in "duck houses" under cramped conditions and armed guards for several months, while the logistics of the next leg of the trip were worked out.

The snakeheads standing guard routinely beat immigrants who talked too much or quarreled, Morton told the court.

The immigrants then flew on commercial flights via Europe to one of a series of Caribbean islands, where they were once again held in duck houses until they could board another flight to either Miami or San Juan. Once on American soil, the immigrants applied for asylum, generally through the Porges law firm, court documents said.

Robert Porges and his wife, Sheery Lu, who allegedly earned more than $13 million from their work for smuggling rings, are awaiting trial in New York. Robert Porges' attorney, Larry Bronson, said: "My client has no knowledge [of Kuang] . . . . Any allegations that he was involved in smuggling of Chinese aliens are not based in fact."

But the immigrants' troubles did not end with their arrival in the United States. Those whose fees had not been paid were held by the snakeheads in Virginia hotels and threatened with violence, according to court documents.

Kuang admitted helping smuggle at least 100 people and detaining at least 10 such aliens in Virginia in 1999 and 2000. Once the fees were paid, Kuang or his associates would drive the hostages to New York and release them. The government presented no evidence that anyone was seriously hurt while being held hostage in Virginia.

The alleged leaders of the smuggling ring, Chan Hak So and Chan See Min, have been arrested and are facing prosecution in the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the U.S. attorney's office there.

Kuang, an American citizen who also works as a car mechanic, admitted receiving $150,000 from the smuggling ring, according to court documents, but Robinson told the judge he believed his client earned less than that.

"The defendant has cooperated to an extraordinary level . . . . He wasn't at the kingpin level," Robinson said.

-- K (, November 05, 2001

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