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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

ICE, Coast Guard dismantle Saipan-based human smuggling scheme

Investigators say ring was transporting Chinese nationals from Saipan to Guam

SAIPAN, CNMI - Two Chinese nationals have been arrested on federal charges for their alleged role in a scheme to smuggle Chinese nationals from Saipan to Guam. The case represents the first federal criminal prosecution involving an immigration-related violation since the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands came under U.S. immigration law in November 2009.

Jian Li, 32, and Qing Mei Cheng, 28, were indicted by a federal grand jury January 5 on 22 counts of alien smuggling. The defendants allegedly attempted to use a boat to smuggle 22 Chinese nationals from Saipan to Guam. In addition to the two defendants named above, authorities also filed criminal charges against the 22 Chinese nationals involved in the smuggling attempt. They are accused of attempted improper entry into the United States.

The charges are the result of an ICE-led investigation that also involved the U.S. Coast Guard and local authorities in the CNMI.

"The investigation and arrests were made possible by the CNMI's recent transition to federal immigration control, and ICE's increased presence in the CNMI," said United States Attorney Leonardo M. Rapadas. "While the defendants may have had permission to be in the CNMI under CNMI law, they were not authorized to travel to any other U.S. jurisdiction. These are positive developments for the CNMI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice to make sure that the United States and the CNMI's borders are safe and secure."

"Human smuggling is a dangerous, multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that puts those involved at significant risk," said Wayne Wills, the special agent in charge who oversees ICE investigative activities in Hawaii, Guam and the CNMI. "ICE is committed to working with its local and federal law enforcement partners not only to disrupt this kind of activity, but to identify and dismantle the criminal organizations behind it."

All 24 suspects were arraigned January 6. The case is slated to go to trial February 22. The charge of human smuggling for financial gain carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.