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Wedding sting hits smuggling ring August 23, 2005 - NY Times
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The guests thought they were headed to an early afternoon wedding on a yacht docked near Atlantic City in the United States.
They ended up in jail instead, courtesy of an elaborate ruse by U.S. federal authorities hoping to bust up an international smuggling ring.
Federal law enforcement agents sent out invitations for a mock wedding on a yacht off Atlantic City to lure 42 people who were accused of taking part in an Asian smuggling ring that brought counterfeit money, drugs and cigarettes into the United States, officials said Monday.
The wedding "guests," who had been invited to attend the nuptials of two supposed American smugglers who were actually undercover agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were among 57 people arrested in recent days as part of the smuggling inquiry, the officials said. In all, 87 people have been indicted.
Justice Department officials, in announcing what they described as the takedown of a major international smuggling ring, said the group's overseas operations were based in Asia, but they refused to say which foreign nations were involved. Other law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the investigation publicly, identified three of the main countries as North Korea, Thailand and China.
Officials said the smuggling ring relied on operatives overseas and within the United States to import illegal goods and currency by way of New Jersey and Los Angeles.
The smugglers, using shipping containers that they claimed were carrying items like toys and rattan furniture, brought tens of millions of dollars in contraband into the United States in recent years, the officials said. Counterfeit cigarettes totaled more than $40 million in street value, the officials said, and federal authorities also confiscated two shipments in New Jersey with $3.4 million in counterfeit currency.
As part of the operation, federal officials said they had also seized 36,000 Ecstasy pills and about a pound of methamphetamine, and undercover agents had also arranged to buy $1 million worth of smuggled weapons, including pistols, rocket launchers and automatic rifles.
Agents also seized $700,000 in fake U.S. postage stamps and blue jeans worth several hundred thousand dollars, FBI Deputy Director John Pistole said.
John C. Richter, the acting assistant attorney general for the criminal division at the Justice Department, described the ring as a "one-stop shop for illegal goods."
Although the Justice Department brought 10 separate racketeering indictments in the case in Los Angeles and Newark against foreigners and Americans, Mr. Richter said at a news conference that "we believe this was all part of one larger organization."
The wedding was to be held aboard a yacht called Royal Charm docked off Atlantic City, officials said, and the guests were told in the invitations that the hosts would provide transportation to the ceremony once they arrived in town.
"Transportation was provided for them - by law enforcement," said Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney for New Jersey. "They never made it to any wedding."