14 held in federal, Stafford probe
Illegal cigarette trafficking, drugs and murder for hire part of 14-month Stafford-based probe
Fourteen people face federal charges as the result of a wide-ranging probe started by the Stafford Sheriff's Office involving contraband cigarettes, guns, drugs and a murder-for-hire scheme.
During the 14-month joint investigation, more than $8 million in cash, 40 firearms and drugs--including 32,000 hits of ecstasy--were given to undercover detectives in exchange for 388,000 cartons of cigarettes.
Authorities said the cigarettes, valued at more than $77 million, were then resold elsewhere, primarily New York.
The defendants sold or traded more than 275,000 phony Virginia and New York State cigarette tax stamps, a press release states.
Members of the organization also agreed to pay an undercover agent posing as a hit man $15,000 to kill a husband and wife who were suspected of stealing 15,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes acquired during the probe.
Those cigarettes had initially been placed in a rented storage facility in Stafford.
Court records state that $7,000 had already been paid as a down payment, and the "hit man" had already been taken to New York and shown where the would-be targets lived.
In addition, another $1.2 million in cash, 50,000 ecstasy pills, a firearm and 100,000 counterfeit tax stamps were seized during yesterday's arrests in Stafford and Fairfax counties.
The suspects had been lured to those places supposedly to make more cigarette-related transactions.
Another 16 people not named in the federal indictments were taken into custody yesterday and face state fraud and drug charges.
Stafford Sheriff Charles Jett said the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are expected. "This is easily one of the most complex and dangerous investigations that we've ever been involved with."
Jett would not say how the investigation began, but a Stafford detective apparently became aware of an illegal cigarette trafficking ring in July of last year. Detectives eventually infiltrated the group and made frequents exchanges of cigarettes for money or other contraband.
Many of the transactions took place at undisclosed locations in Stafford, court records show.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms worked closely with three Stafford detectives in the investigation, and other state and federal agencies have been involved as well.
Jett said the ecstasy acquired in Stafford is a record for the area. The pills have a street value of about $800,000, authorities said.
Selling contraband cigarettes in New York and other Northern states has long been a lucrative business, authorities said. In part because of the large tax placed on cigarettes in New York, cigarettes cost about twice as much there as here.
Nine of the 14 people facing federal charges were arrested yesterday, including 33-year-old Chi Kin "Jimmy" Pong of Stafford. Court records state Pong has been investigated for more than a year and was involved in 25 transactions. He paid undercover detectives more than $1.8 million for more than 100,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes.
The other suspects live in Northern Virginia, Washington, Maryland and New York.
Date published: 11/6/2009
BY KEITH EPPS