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Virginia Man Sentenced to Five Years in Cigarette Trafficking Case

Yinhau (Steven) Chen of Fredericksburg was sentenced to five years in a federal cigarette trafficking case on December 22. He pled guilty to conspiracy to commit money-laundering in connection with a scheme in which he supplied interstate smugglers with large quantities of cigarettes at lower taxed Virginia prices. The smugglers then took the cigarettes to higher taxed states to the north, selling them for below retail but for a high profit.

The large amounts of cash were what caused Mr. Chen to end up facing federal prosecution. His scheme included using multiple credit card accounts to purchase cigarettes wholesale. He received cash for them. He had to find a way to convert large volumes of cash into bank accounts that enabled him to pay off his credit cards.

In order to avoid reporting, he made numerous deposits into a wide variety of different accounts in amounts under $10,000. Federal law requires banks to report deposits in amounts exceeding $10,000 for purposes of ferreting out money laundering and tax evasion schemes. But it wasn’t the financial institutions or their reporting obligations that got him caught. It was the fact that he was seen and caught on video numerous times meeting with cigarette smugglers and loading large quantities of cigarettes into their vehicles.

Federal Crimes and Sentencing Guidelines

The five-year sentence handed down in this case is in line with the controversial federal sentencing guidelines, which have been criticized for taking away judicial discretion.

The guidelines recommend five years in prison for the crime of money laundering to which Mr. Chen pled guilty. So this is one of many cases in which the guidelines are followed rigorously.

While the guidelines themselves are the subject of much criticism and may be reformed by legislation, there is little that can be done about them judicially until all federal judges decide to simply ignore them. This is a highly unlikely outcome in the near future.

While legislative reform may be underway in the near future, the current situation is still very bleak for many criminal defendants in federal courts. They can be charged for a wide array of laws with obscure jurisdictional elements—many of which defendants may not even be aware. And even the wealthiest defendants cannot match the resources at a federal prosecutor’s disposal. All of this means that when a person is accused of a federal crime, they are very often justifiably terrified. For this reason people in this situation are very unlikely to even go to trial, accepting whatever plea deal is offered to them.

Contact a Virginia Federal Defense Attorney

If you are accused of a federal crime, you are in a serious situation. The federal government is extremely powerful and has the ability to ruin your life with a prosecution. If you are subject to prosecution by the United States, you need the best possible defense you can get. The Leesburg attorneys at Simms Showers are experienced in a wide variety of criminal defense matters, including federal crimes.   Contact us today to see how we can help you.

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