Ringleader of Multi-State Drug Conspiracy Sentenced to Prison
PITTSBURGH—The leader of a cross-country drug ring has been sentenced in federal court to 140 months’ incarceration on her conviction of conspiracy to violate federal drug and money laundering laws, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.
United States District Judge Nora Barry Fischer imposed the sentence on Jennifer Chau Chieu, 37, of Orchard Spring Road, Green Tree, Pa. According to information presented to the court, Chieu moved from Oakland, Calif., to Pittsburgh in 2010, and by October of that year was back in the drug business, using her old contacts to ship her 10-20 pound packages of high-quality marijuana from California on a daily basis.
Chieu led a sprawling drug conspiracy that brought more than 3,500 pounds of high quality marijuana from California to Pittsburgh between 2010 and 2012. Chieu resold the marijuana for between $2,400 and $4,600 per pound, wholesale, yielding between $8 million and $16 million in gross proceeds. The retail or “street” value of this marijuana was several multiples of the $8 million to $16 million figure, depending on whether it was ultimately sold by grams or ounces.
United States Postal Inspectors eventually identified more than 250 inbound drug packages, and in excess of 350 outbound parcels containing drug proceeds, with $12,000-$20,000 in each package. Between January and April 2011, postal inspectors served nine search warrants on outgoing parcels suspected to contain drug proceeds. Each of the parcels contained between $12,000 and $20,000 in cash, with the total exceeding $143,000.
Postal inspectors and IRS and FBI special agents observed Chieu making deals out of her Green Tree home, and a nail salon she owned on Liberty Avenue in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh.
Wiretaps were approved for Chieu’s phones and several others between June and October 2011. Chieu and her co-conspirators spoke four languages on the wiretaps – Vietnamese, English, and two Chinese dialects—often switching languages in mid-sentence in an obvious attempt to hamper law enforcement agents and interpreters who might be listening.
More than a hundred hours of calls were intercepted between Chieu and her primary Oakland, Calif., drug supplier. On a daily basis, Chieu and her conspirator discussed how much marijuana he would be sending, the quality or “brand name” of the product, and how much Chieu would charge for it here and how many packages of cash she planned to send to California the next day.
Large cash seizures demonstrated the broad scope of this drug ring. In April 2012, Chieu and a conspirator were stopped in Utah for a traffic violation. Hidden within their car was more than $530,000 in cash. Both individuals refused to claim the cash, with Chieu telling officers she didn’t know how it got there.
Following the indictment of Chieu and 19 other individuals, Chieu was arrested in April 2012, at which time more than $70,000 was seized from her Green Tree home, and $100,000 from a safe deposit box. Another seizure in 2011 of drug proceeds from a van leaving Pittsburgh for California turned up $136,000 in cash. About a million dollars in cash was seized in this investigation, with homes and cars also seized for forfeiture to the government. Seventeen of the 20 indicted individuals have now entered pleas of guilty, and most of those have now been sentenced. Two co-defendants await trial, and the 20th defendant is a fugitive.
Prior to imposing sentence, Judge Fischer called Chieu the ringleader of a multi-state conspiracy that required the government to expend significant resources to catch her, including the use of wiretaps, search warrants, pole cameras and surveillances.
As part of her sentence, Chieu was ordered to forfeit a home in Green Tree, and approximately $620,000 in cash seized by the government. Following completion of her prison sentence, Chieu will serve a period five years’ supervised release.
Assistant United States Attorney Gregory J. Nescott prosecuted this case on behalf of the government.
U.S. Attorney Hickton commended the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the investigation leading to the successful prosecution of Jennifer Chau Chieu.