Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

A Los Angeles man who admitted to illegally importing tobacco products — mainly Chinese cigarettes —  will face up to five years in federal prison when he is sentenced in April.

The scheme involved failing to pay almost a half-million dollars in taxes.

Zhi Xiong Chen, 56, a Chinatown resident, has pleaded guilty to the felony offense and admitted that for nearly five years, despite not holding a permit to import tobacco products, he used several addresses to receive 15,128 cartons of Chinese-brand cigarettes, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

During that time, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers also stopped about 9,825 cartons of Chinese-brand cigarettes at international mail facilities in California and New York.

As part of the scheme, Chen admitted Monday that he attempted to evade paying more than $467,000 in federal and state excise taxes on the cigarettes that he illegally imported, prosecutors said.

“From early 2011 until mid-2016, this defendant illegally imported thousands of cartons of Chinese-made cigarettes without the necessary permits and without paying excise taxes,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The defendant’s crime not only cheated taxpayers, but also caused unregulated, potentially dangerous products to be sold to an unsuspecting public.”

Chen faces up to five years in federal prison when he is sentenced in downtown Los Angeles April 17.

“While Zhi Xiong Chen was illegally importing tens of thousands of cartons of cigarettes into the United States, he was also evading hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes due on those cigarettes,” said Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s tax division.

“Importers who obtain the required permits and pay their fair share of taxes deserve to compete on a level playing field,” he said. “Those who try to cut corners and skirt these legal obligations should know that they will be investigated and prosecuted.”

–City News Service

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