LINCOLN, Neb. — Six people were indicted in federal court Friday for operating a smuggling ring that illegally imported cigarettes from Vietnam.
The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in cooperation with the following agencies: U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Nebraska Department of Revenue, Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles Fraud Unit, Nebraska State Patrol, Otoe County Sheriff's Office and the Lincoln Police Department.
The following people were arrested: Teo Van Phan, Nhu Van Phan (aka Nhu Phan), Hoa Van Huhyn (aka Wha Huynh), Kim Nguyen (aka Kim Thoa), Tang (Janny) Nguyen (aka Thi Nguyen) and Thuy Nguyen. All the defendants are residents of the Lincoln area.
The 18-count indictment alleges the six defendants conspired between July 2010 and May 15, 2012 to fraudulently import, receive, possess, conceal, buy and sell contraband cigarettes from Vietnam.
Court documents further charge the group with attempting to evade federal and state taxes on the imported cigarettes (fraud), and with using the mail to import the cigarettes and evade taxes (mail fraud). The indictment also alleges the defendants directed packages of cigarettes, that bore no evidence of payment of taxes, be sent through international and U.S. Mail to Lincoln addresses; and that they then sold and distributed the untaxed cigarettes within the District of Nebraska. Many packages of the contraband cigarettes were labeled as gifts or presents.
Of specific note, Kim Nguyen and Tang (Janny) Nguyen were charged with shipping, transporting, receiving and possessing more than 10,000 contraband cigarettes on dates in both December 2011 and March 2012.
"These cigarette smugglers tried to maximize their profits by cheating the U.S. government and its citizens," said Special Agent in Charge Michael Feinberg of HSI Omaha. "Fortunately, Homeland Security Investigations' unique customs law enforcement authorities were designed specifically to target and investigate such criminals."
"The defendants in this case conspired to evade the established cigarette tax laws for the express purpose of self-enrichment; and in doing so they prevented the legitimate collection of state and federal tax revenues," said Adam Behnen, inspector in charge for USPIS. "Their trafficking in contraband cigarettes has been the focus of a coordinated and extensive investigation involving cooperation among numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The grand jury indictment and subsequent arrest of six individuals exemplifies our efforts to ensure the U.S. Mail is not used as a means to further criminal enterprise."
U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg praised the cooperation and efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and present the case for federal prosecution. She also noted the investigation is continuing.
The indictment also alleges that if they are convicted for fraud and smuggling they should forfeit the following: all the contraband cigarettes delivered to their residences, all U.S. currency seized from their homes, and any other property identified as proceeds or obtained as a result of their illegal conduct.
The charges carry possible maximum penalties varying from five to 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine (per count charged), three years of supervised release, and special assessment fees.
Following their initial appearances in court, Teo Van Phan was released on terms and conditions imposed by the court; the other five defendants were ordered detained pending trial or further orders of the court.
The charges contained in the indictments are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.