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Press Release

Leader of Transnational Money Laundering Network Pleads Guilty to Aiding Drug Trafficking Organizations, While Co-Conspirator is Sentenced

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Chinese national and naturalized U.S. citizen pleaded guilty yesterday to his involvement in a conspiracy to launder at least $30 million in drug proceeds on behalf of foreign drug trafficking organizations. Another Chinese national was sentenced to 7 years in prison today for his role in the same conspiracy.

According to court documents, Xizhi Li, 48, played a leadership role within a years’ long conspiracy to use a foreign casino, foreign and domestic front companies, foreign and domestic bank accounts, false passports and other false identification documents, and bulk cash smuggling to launder money on behalf of transnational drug trafficking organizations, whose main drug trafficking activities involved cocaine. The defendant dealt directly with members of drug trafficking organizations or their representatives to obtain and service “contracts” to move their drug proceeds. Once the defendant and his co-conspirators obtained a “contract” to launder drug proceeds, they would engage in financial transactions that were designed to conceal the illicit source of the original funds, in return for the payment of commissions.

“This prosecution demonstrates the enormous value of collaborating with agencies across the government and with our international partners to dismantle and hold accountable transnational criminal organizations that pose a significant danger to the public,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The far-reaching conspiracy in this case involved the laundering of millions of dollars of illegal proceeds on behalf of transnational drug trafficking organizations through the use of a casinos, front companies, foreign and domestic bank accounts, false identification documents, and bulk cash smuggling. We greatly appreciate the essential and innumerable contributions from our partner agencies, all of whom worked closely together to thoroughly follow the facts and evidence that led to the unraveling of this multimillion-dollar money laundering scheme.”

“The defendant laundered millions of dollars on behalf of drug traffickers through the global financial system in a manner that concealed the source and nature of the illicit funds,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. “Global money laundering networks enable drug cartels to profit from their deadly trade, and yesterday’s guilty plea and today’s sentence underscores the Justice Department’s commitment to dismantling the financial infrastructure of transnational criminal organizations to take the profit out of crime. This plea and sentence would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of our federal law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.”

“DEA’s mission is to make our communities safer and healthier, which means bringing to justice the most dangerous individuals and organizations that traffic drugs in the United States and around the world,” said Anne Milgram, Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator. “Through the collective efforts of the DEA and our law enforcement partners, we relentlessly pursue individuals, like the one here, who admitted to laundering more than $30 million in drug profits.”

Co-defendant, Tao Liu, 46, of Hong Kong, helped to execute the money laundering scheme. At times, Liu accepted bulk drug cash on behalf of Xizhi Li, which he later deposited into bank accounts that Li provided. Additionally, Liu was the target of a months-long undercover investigation during which he attempted to bribe what he believed was a corrupt U.S. Department of State official to obtain U.S. passports for individuals, including Liu himself, who were not otherwise entitled to use or possess such documents. This purportedly corrupt official was actually an undercover DEA agent. Liu agreed to pay $150,000 per passport as part of this scheme.

Li pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money. He is scheduled to be sentenced on October 26 and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison as well as a $10 million forfeiture money judgment. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Liu pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy and a separate bribery charge on April 14 and was sentenced today to 7 years in prison.

On April 14, co-defendants Jiayu Chen, 46, of Brooklyn, New York, and Jingyuan Li, 49, of San Gabriel, California, pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. On July 20, Chen was sentenced to 60 months’ imprisonment and ordered to forfeit $2.8 million dollars.

Additionally, on June 16, Eric Yong Woo, 43, of Alhambra, California, also pleaded guilty to his role in the money laundering conspiracy. He is scheduled to be sentenced on September 21 and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Finally, Jianxing Chen, 40, of Belize, was charged in the superseding indictment for his alleged involvement in this money laundering and drug trafficking conspiracy. He is pending extradition following his arrest in Lima, Peru. Chen was captured with significant assistance from The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).

The DEA’s Louisville Division and the DEA’s Special Operations Division – Bilateral Investigations Unit are investigating this case, with assistance from the DEA’s Office of Special Intelligence, Document and Media Exploitation Unit and the DEA’s offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Omaha, Atlanta, Newark, Portland Dallas, Mexico City, Merida (Mexico), Guatemala City, Belmopan (Belize), Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta (Indonesia), Manila (Philippines), Tokyo, Seoul, Bangkok, Lima (Peru), and Canberra (Australia). The U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Postal Inspection Service, INTERPOL, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP – National Targeting Center) were partners in the investigation of this case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys David A. Peters and Michael P. Ben’Ary and Trial Attorneys Kerry Blackburn, Mary K. Daly, and Stephen A. Sola of the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section are prosecuting the case.

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Federal Police, the Australia Department of Home Affairs, the Mexican Federal Police, the Guatemalan National Civil Police, and the New Zealand Police also provided significant assistance.

This prosecution is part of two Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigations known as Operation Dark Castle and Operation Taishan Triangle. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-334.

Updated April 18, 2023

Financial Fraud