CNMI HUMAN SMUGGLING SUSPECTS PLEAD NOT GUILTY

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Chinese arrested when they boarded boat, not at sea

By Andrew O. De Guzman SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Jan. 7, 2010) - Twenty-four Chinese nationals last night denied the charge that they attempted to enter the United States illegally through Guam.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Alex Munson called the hearing to order at 4:45 p.m. for the arraignment of the defendants -- six females and 18 males.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric O’Malley, Kirk Schuler, and Beverly McCallum represented the federal government.

Munson called for a 15-minute recess following a motion to have the arraignment occur en masse.

The lawyers and interpreters then consulted with the defendants.

Munson accepted the not guilty plea of all the defendants, except for Junhua Chen, whose attorney had yet to appear when the hearing ended shortly after 6 p.m. last night.

Defendants Jian Li and Qingmei Cheng were each charged with 22 counts of attempting to bring an alien to the United States.

Defendant Chen and the 21 others were facing one count each of attempted improper entry by an alien.

Munson noted the "substantial flight risk" of the defendants and denied them bail, but he will hear motions for bail modification.

He remanded all the defendants to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and set their jury trial for Feb. 22, 2010.

The other defendants are Xiaoyan Chen, Jian Dong, Wenjun Huo, Shiguang Li, Yong Jun Li, Ping Liu, Weili Liu, Jian Bo Ying, Dong Wang, Dongxiang Wang, Qingxu Wang, Shiying Wei, Jingkai Yu, Yi Wu, Lei Xu, Junyan Zhang, Yibin Zheng, Zhaohai Zheng, Weikun Zhong, and Bo Zhou.

All the defendants are over 21 years old, according to the Federal Probation Office.

In his affidavit, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Blu Shiroma, who has been working with Guam Customs, stated that he led an undercover investigation into alien smuggling, "whereby known individuals have represented explicit desires to smuggle themselves from Saipan to Guam by boat."

ICE investigated the human smuggling attempt in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

An undercover ICE special agent acted as a boat captain and spoke with Junhua Chen on November 6, December 2, and December 17, 2009, and on January 4, 2010.

Chen informed the undercover ICE special agent of their desire to be smuggled to Guam in exchange for money, Shiroma stated.

On January 5, 2010, a plan was relayed to the defendants who then met with the undercover ICE special agent on Saipan, where they "boarded a boat with the intent to illegally enter Guam."

They were not intercepted off Guam waters as earlier reported.

Shiroma said the defendants were arrested "based upon probable cause that [they] attempted to unlawfully enter the United States."

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