THE CASE OF THE SNAKEHEAD QUEEN
Chinese Human Smuggler Gets 35 Years
ship used for human smuggling runs aground
in New York.
was once one of the most powerful underworld
figures in New York. To her associates and
followers, she was "the Mother of all
Snakeheads" (that's criminal slang for
human smugglers). In Chinatown, she was affectionately
called "Sister Ping." Now, following
Thursday's sentencing in a U.S. District Court,
Cheng Chui Ping faces 35 years in jail.
For more than a decade, Cheng smuggled as
many as 3,000 illegal immigrants from her
native China into the U.S.—collecting more
than $40 million from immigrants by charging
upwards of $40,000.
methods? Brutal. Cheng allowed some customers
to pay part of their fee, but once in the
U.S. they were held or threatened with violence
until the balance was paid. Cheng often employed
the notoriously violent Fuk Chin Gang for
aboard the smuggling vessels were often inhumane.
In June 1993, a rickety cargo ship named the
Golden Venture (pictured above) carrying some
300 illegal immigrants ran aground off the
coast of Queens, New York, after a miserable
three-month voyage. Ten immigrants, including
one of Sister Ping's customers, drowned while
trying to swim to safety.
knew about Cheng before the Golden Venture
tragedy. In fact, she had been arrested for
alien smuggling and had been an informant
against other smugglers. All the while, she
continued to run her own operations. It was
our efforts to break the Fuk Chin Gang that
led to Cheng's downfall. Some members of the
gang cooperated with our investigation into
her activities, leading to her indictment
an illegal immigrant herself—started her smuggling
service shortly after she entered the U.S.
in 1981. Her business flourished and she joined
with other snakeheads to buy ships that could
carry more desperate immigrants at a time.
During the early 1990s, she ruled her enterprise
from a variety store in Manhattan's Chinatown.
Using her illegal proceeds, she also ran a
legitimate travel agency and real estate company.
Many customers were illegal aliens she'd smuggled
into the country. At the height of her operations,
she owned restaurants, a clothing store, and
real estate in Chinatown, as well as apartments
in Hong Kong and a farm in South Africa.
her indictment, Cheng fled to China, where
she continued to run a smuggling operation.
In April 2000, Hong Kong police on the lookout
for the FBI arrested her at the airport. Cheng
fought extradition to this country, but was
eventually delivered to the U.S. in July 2003.
By the time she arrived here, we had put together
a witness list of 25 people for her trial
from around the world, including Guatemala,
Canada, the U.S., and Hong Kong. She was convicted
in New York less than two years later on multiple
counts, including money laundering, conspiracy
to commit alien smuggling, and other smuggling-related
to the work of the Hong Kong Police, our New
York field office, our Legal Attaché
in Hong Kong, and the Bureau of Immigration
and Customs Enforcement, justice has finally
been served for the many victims of Sister
Ping Sentencing Press Release | More
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Department of Justice's human trafficking