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November 25, 2015Los Angeles, CA, United StatesIntellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

Former Los Angeles-area woman gets nearly 5-year federal prison term for trafficking counterfeit cigarettes

LOS ANGELES — A former resident of the San Gabriel Valley who was a major distributor of counterfeit cigarettes in the Los Angeles area has been sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison for trafficking in counterfeit goods.

Su Qin Yang, who also used the names "Lily" and "Anita Chang," was sentenced Tuesday to 57 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow. The case is the result of a joint probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Yang, 45, who resided in Rosemead prior to fleeing to China in 2012, pleaded guilty in May to one count of trafficking in counterfeit goods and admitted in her plea agreement that she trafficked in almost four million counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes and almost 4,000 counterfeit Viagra pills. The counterfeit products were seized during searches of Yang's residence and storage locations in the summer of 2012.

Yang "sold an extremely large quantity of counterfeit cigarettes to great profit, and showed no signs of slowing down," prosecutors wrote in a brief that sought the 57-month sentence. "Indeed, the government is advised that after defendant's arrest, the illegal sale of counterfeit cigarettes in the Los Angeles area decreased dramatically."

Yang was named in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in August 2013. Also charged in the 16-count indictment was Yang's husband, Antonio Limbeek, who remains a fugitive and is believed to be in Indonesia.

"The black market for counterfeit products poses serious dangers to the community," said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. "Counterfeit products endanger public health because they are not manufactured to the same standards as legitimate products. There is a significant possibility of contaminants in counterfeit items, and the black market makes these products more available to minors."

After authorities executed the search warrants, but prior to the indictment in the case, Yang and her husband fled the United States. Yang returned to the U.S. in January.

"In addition to the health risks, trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes, as well as other trademarked goods, is a multi-billion dollar global industry that robs governments of vital revenues and undermines our economy," said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles. "Even more disturbing, the huge profits generated by this illicit industry often go to fund other kinds of criminal enterprise."

The investigation in this case started after Phillip Morris USA brought information related to the trafficking of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes to federal authorities. When searches were conducted, authorities seized approximately 27,500 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes and approximately $440,000 in cash, "demonstrating the huge profits that defendant was obtaining through this crime," prosecutors said in court papers.

According to the government's sentencing memo, while engaged in discussions with prosecutors in 2012 about potentially pleading guilty, Yang and Limbeek "fled the country, leaving their minor children behind. Thereafter, [Yang] arranged for her minor children to be transported to Washington state and then flown to China, attempting to smuggle over $300,000 in additional cash with them."

In addition to the prison term, Judge Morrow ordered Yang to pay $308,894 in restitution to Phillip Morris USA, which holds the trademark for Marlboro cigarettes.

Phillip Morris has designated The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund to receive all of the restitution.