- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

Federal agents seized more than $4 million in counterfeit U.S. currency in raids on cargo containers in ports in California and New Jersey yesterday and Sunday, arresting 87 Asian nationals and U.S. citizens on charges of smuggling counterfeit money, drugs and cigarettes into the United States.

The agents seized the counterfeit currency, described as high-quality fake $100 bills, as part of two undercover operations — Royal Charm and Smoking Dragon — that targeted cargo containers in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., and Newark, N.J.

Also seized were more than 1 billion counterfeit cigarettes valued at $42 million, many of them made in China, along with $700,000 in fake U.S. postage stamps and jeans worth several hundred thousand dollars.

In an investigation begun by the FBI’s Atlantic City, N.J., field office that later involved the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Secret Service and New Jersey State Police, the arrests took place in Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

U.S. Attorney Debra Yang in Los Angeles told reporters the arrests eliminated “an extremely sophisticated smuggling operation specializing in bringing foreign-made counterfeit cigarettes into the United States” by gang members in Los Angeles and on the East Coast who were “willing to bring to the United States almost any product that would make them money.”

Forty-two of those arrested in New Jersey, said U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, were lured by FBI agents to a fake afternoon wedding on a yacht docked outside Atlantic City of two purported gang members who actually were undercover agents.

Seven months in the planning, Mr. Christie said, the “bride and groom” sent out invitations, and RSVPs were received from around the world. He said the guests gathered at a hotel and were promised rides to the wedding site, but were taken into custody instead.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John C. Richter said the international smugglers “plotted to flood our nation with counterfeit money, weapons, drugs and other contraband,” adding that gang members were “willing to be a one-stop shop for illegal goods.”

“We seized more than $4 million of highly deceptive counterfeit currency, what some call ‘supernotes,’ in the largest seizure of its kind. And we did so before it could enter circulation here and cause economic damage,” Mr. Richter said.

He said agents also seized 36,000 Ecstasy pills and nearly a half-kilogram of crystal methamphetamine, and charged members of the gang with arms trafficking and conspiring to import more than $1 million in silenced pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles and rocket launchers, although no weapons were seized.

“Importantly, we also stemmed the flow of profits to fund this organization’s continued criminal activities,” Mr. Richter said. “Their cycle of crime stops today.”

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