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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 27, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---A leader of one of the Chinese syndicates smuggling undocumented aliens into Guam was sentenced by the federal court Wednesday to 16 years in prison, getting the stiffest penalty so far in a case that also involved nine of his compatriots.

Shi Peng, 27, was sentenced after a jury trial last October found him guilty of attempting to smuggle 51 illegal Chinese immigrants into the U.S. territory last May.

Witnesses testified during the trial that Shi served as the lead "enforcer" on the fishing boat carrying illegal aliens from Fujian province in mainland China. The boat was later intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard about 100 miles northwest of Guam.

After its engines failed and the vessel sank, the 51 passengers on board were taken to Tinian. Federal authorities there set up tents to accommodate more than 500 undocumented aliens attempting to enter Guam between April and June of last year.

Investigations revealed that some of the ship's passengers, who paid over $7,000 each for the trip, were repeatedly beaten with fists, sticks, pulley belts and chairs; and threatened with a meat cleaver, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney Office in the CNMI.

Witnesses also testified during the 18-day trial of the lawsuit filed by the federal government against 10 alleged "enforcers," including Shi, that one alien was beaten "so severely that he lay unconscious on board the ship three days," said the statement.

Frederick A. Black, U.S. attorney for Guam and CNMI, hailed the sentence against Shi handed down by Federal Court Judge Alex R. Munson.

"The likelihood of stiff sentences for smugglers, combined with the repatriation of those being smuggled, should serve as a strong deterrent to those who seek to come to the U.S. in violation of its laws," he said in the statement.

"Tireless work by both federal and local officials brought an end to the illegal migrants' egregious suffering and laid the groundwork for this successful prosecution," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Baka, counsel for the prosecution.

Johnny Williams, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Western Regional Director, underscored the significance of the stiff sentence, which he said sends a "powerful message" to those engaged in alien smuggling.

"We are committed to using every resource and tool at our disposal to put those who traffic in human misery out of business," he added.

Shi's sentencing followed last week's plea agreement by Gao Xing, 16, who is one of the 10 crewmen and leaders of the fishing boat charged in the case. Four of those accused were acquitted by the jury, while Shi and Xue Jian Hui were convicted.

Gao could face at least 46 months imprisonment and his sentencing has been scheduled for April 25.

At least 29 individuals were prosecuted by the federal government in connection with five smuggling ships that were sent to Tinian last year.

Besides Shi, 20 others have already been sentenced, with penalties ranging from four to 46 months.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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