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May 24, 2004

Convictions in people smuggling case

Two men face a minimum sentence of three years in prison after a jury convicted them on May 20 on human smuggling charges stemming from the discovery of 19 Chinese nationals inside a shipping container at the Port of Los Angeles in February.

The men, Jian Rong Tan and Wen Hsue Chang, were found guilty following a week-long trial on nine separate counts, including conspiracy, bringing aliens into the United States for financial gain, and harboring illegal aliens. They are scheduled to be sentenced in Federal Court on August 26.

Tan and Chang traveled with the smuggled migrants inside the 40-foot shipping container on board a Cypriot-flagged vessel, the Ningbo. Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) say Tan and Chang served as the "enforcers" during the journey and controlled the group's access to food.

According to ICE agents, the smuggled migrants from China's Fujian Province stated they were being charged approximately $40,000 apiece for the trip to the United States. The men said the fee was to be paid by their families in China.

The smuggling scheme was uncovered February 24 after agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), acting on a tip, opened the hard-topped container and found the men inside. In addition to food and water, the shipping container was outfitted with several car batteries that were used to power small portable fans. A small, crudely fashioned ventilation hatch had been cut in the container's floor.

The number of Chinese nationals being smuggled in through Los Angeles area ports has dropped off significantly in the last several years, says ICE. Officials attribute the decrease to expanded international cooperation and law enforcement efforts.

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