California Man Admits Role in Distributing Millions of Dollars’ Worth of Untaxed Cigarettes
|U.S. Attorney’s Office October 22, 2013|
CAMDEN, NJ—A California man today admitted his role in a conspiracy to distribute untaxed contraband cigarettes from New Jersey to California, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced today.
Jia Yongming, 45, of Monterey Park, California, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden federal court to count one of an indictment charging him with conspiracy to ship, transport, receive, possess, sell, distribute, and purchase more than 3.7 million untaxed cigarettes.
Yongming was arrested and charged in February 2011 along with Yazhou Wu, 29, of Diamond Bar, California, and Johnny Chan Koon Ha, 36, of Corona, California. Also charged was Ricky Le, 52, of Diamond Bar, California, who is currently not in the United States. Ha has since pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Wu fled after his initial appearance in court, and his whereabouts are currently unknown.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Most states, including California, require a stamp to be placed on packs of cigarettes indicating the appropriate state tax has been paid. From May 2009 through May 2011, California imposed a tax of $0.87 on each pack of cigarettes. As part of an FBI undercover investigation, the cigarettes, which had been shipped to Port Newark, New Jersey, from China, were taken by truck to the conspirators in California, where undercover FBI agents delivered them to the defendants and received payment of $225,000. The money paid to the FBI agents was their commission for delivering a total of five loads of cigarettes. The state of California lost more than $2 million in taxes as a result of this conspiracy.
The charge to which Yongming pleaded guilty is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for January 29, 2014.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford; and special agents of HSI-ICE, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Andrew McLees, for the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dara Aquila Govan and Jonathan W. Romankow of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.