More than 17 million black-market l&m cigarettes were shipped and sold across state lines during a year-and-a-half-long trafficking scheme that used Prince George’s County police officers for protection of the shipments, according to the plea agreement of one of the men involved.
Chun “Eddy” Chen, 34, a carryout restaurant owner from Bowie, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to commit extortion in connection with the scheme to transport and sell untaxed cigarettes and alcohol. Chen was among the seven people, including two Prince George’s County police officers, arrested in November as part of a federal corruption probe and charged in the untaxed cigarette-trafficking scheme. He is the first person to plead guilty to the charges.
Two other men arrested at the same time, including one Prince George’s County police officer, were charged in November with drug trafficking.
According to Chen’s plea agreement, untaxed cigarettes from Virginia were purchased from an undercover FBI agent by middlemen, and eventually Chen and county police officer Chong Chin Kim, 42, of Beltsville, sold them to people in New York. While cigarette taxes were only 30 cents per pack in Virginia, cigarette taxes are more than $8 per pack in New York. The amount of tax dollars lost through Chen’s involvement in the scheme is more than $2.6 million, said Marcia Murphy, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.
The 17 million cigarettes illegally trafficked is enough for more than 2,300 people to smoke a pack every day for a year.
From July 2009 to January 2010, the seven conspirators brought black-market cigarettes and alcohol into Maryland 33 times, according to Chen’s plea agreement.
In July 2009, Beltsville auto body shop owner Amir Milijkovic and county police officer Sgt. Richard Delabrer began protecting shipments of untaxed alcohol that the undercover FBI agent brought from Virginia to an unnamed liquor store in Prince George’s County, the agreement states. They later began doing the same thing with cigarette shipments and selling the cigarettes to various people, including Kim and Chen.
Others charged in the conspiracy scheme include Ravinder Kaur Melhi and Amrik Singh Melhi, the owners of Tick Tock Liquors in Hyattsville; and Jose Moreno, 49, of Alexandria, Va., who allegedly helped to transport and store the cigarettes and alcohol.
Chen faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He will be sentenced in federal court July 13. His attorney, Stanley J. Reed, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.