The alleged leader of an international immigrant smuggling ring that turned deadly was arraigned in a U.S. Federal court in New York Tuesday after being extradited from Hong Kong. Cheng Chi Ping, also known as "Big Sister Ping," allegedly smuggled thousands of Chinese migrants to Canada and the United States for more than a decade.
Prosecutors say Ms. Cheng was the mastermind of a fatal 1993 voyage to the United States. The ship, known as the Golden Venture, was packed with 300 Chinese immigrants. After making the 26,000 kilometer trip, the ship hit ground off the shores of New York City. Ten passengers died trying to reach nearby land.
Ms. Cheng was indicted in absentia in 1994. After more than five years on the run, she was arrested in 2000 at a Hong Kong airport.
Deputy U.S. Attorney David Kelley announced that she has been extradited to New York. She faces a possible life sentence if convicted of charges including conspiracy and extortion. "It's really a case of an enterprising individual who took advantage of those so desperate to escape the poverty and misery of their homeland," he says. "But while promising them passage to their dreams, Sister Ping often delivered only a nightmare and sometimes death."
Prosecutors say that Ms. Cheng made millions of dollars in the immigrant trafficking schemes. She allegedly held many of the immigrants hostage until they paid ransoms of up to $30,000 each.
Ms. Cheng has pleaded not guilty. Speaking outside the New York courtroom, her attorney Lawrence Hochheister predicted that it would be some time before the case goes to trial. "She just got here in the wee hours of the morning under very stressful circumstances. This is our first appearance before a judge," he said. "Things happen very slowly, the wheels of justice grind slow, as they say."
Ms. Cheng is being held without bail.