Meridian Star

July 13, 2013

Plea hearing set in immigrant smuggling case

The Associated Press
Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — A change of plea hearing has been scheduled for July 25 for a naturalized U.S. citizen charged in Mississippi with transporting two Chinese immigrants who were in the United States illegally.

A criminal complaint in U.S. District Court in Jackson said the two immigrants went from China to Hong Kong to Honduras. The complaint says they traveled through Mexico and crossed the border near Laredo, Texas.

Court records say Ming Che Chen picked them up in Texas and was taking them to New York when a deputy stopped him on Interstate 20 in Rankin County.

Ming was arrested after all three were questioned.

He previously pleaded not guilty. The change of plea hearing is scheduled to take place in U.S. District Court in Jackson. A previously scheduled plea change hearing in April was postponed.

The immigrants told authorities it cost about $85,000 to be smuggled from China to New York, according to court records.

Under questioning, Ming told authorities he picked the two up from "the Mexicans" and would be paid "a couple hundred dollars" for taking them to New York, according court records.

A criminal complaint filed in court contains an affidavit written by a Homeland Security Investigations agent. The affidavit says a deputy pulled over the car because the front seat passenger was not wearing a seat belt as required by Mississippi law.

Ming, who had a Texas driver's license and said he lives in Houston, initially told the deputy his two passengers were his son and daughter and that they were in the United States on student visas, the affidavit said. The deputy ran a background check and found that Ming was already the subject of a Homeland Security Investigations probe in Texas, according to the complaint.

The woman told authorities she was not Ming's daughter and that her family had paid about $85,000 to get her from Guangzhou, China, to New York, court records say. She told authorities that she took a train to Hong Kong and commercial flight to Honduras and was smuggled over land through Mexico.

The other immigrant said he had agreed to pay about the same amount, and had already paid half to travel the same route, court records say. They didn't know how much of that money when to Ming, the affidavit said.