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Money launderer caught at YVR pleads guilty in Chicago

Chinese citizen faces prison sentence of at least 14 years for drug-cash offences.
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A Chinese man who pleaded guilty in the U.S. to money laundering charges was accused of acting a broker of at least $14 million in narcotics

The Chinese citizen arrested at Vancouver International Airport more than two years ago on charges he laundered money for Mexican drug cartels has pleaded guilty to a federal judge in Chicago.

Long Huanxin, a.k.a. “Little Long” or “Mateo K,” was accused of receiving bulk cash from the proceeds of narcotics, laundering the funds and delivering the money to drug-trafficking cartels in Mexico.

During a video hearing on March 28, Long, 34, told Judge Gary Feinerman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that he pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy and that the facts against him were correct. The other three charges will be dropped. Long is held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

The plea agreement contemplates a prison sentence in the range of 14 years to 17.5 years. Long will also forfeit $70,000. The judge told Long he also faces the very high likelihood of deportation to China upon release. Feinerman set July 12 for a status hearing, at which the sentencing hearing is expected to be scheduled.

Had a trial gone ahead, Long could have faced up to 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine or twice the amount of funds involved in the criminal transaction (whichever is greater), and up to three years’ probation.

Long was destined for Mexico when he was arrested Feb. 5, 2020, at YVR after arriving on a flight from Guangzhou. Canada Border Services Agency officers were acting on a U.S. warrant issued in March 2019. Long agreed during a July 2020 BC Supreme Court hearing to surrender to U.S. authorities.

Prosecutor Sean Franzblau told Feinerman that in 2017 and 2018, Long acted as a broker of at least $14 million in narcotics through the collection of the proceeds from various individuals and the exchange of U.S. dollars for Chinese renminbi.

Long, he said, earned a commission fee of approximately 0.5% for each money pickup and associated mirror transaction that he facilitated, personally earning approximately $70,000.

“The defendant also knew that he was collecting and exchanging narcotics proceeds in this manner, because the individuals who owned and controlled the money wanted to hide the connection to the proceeds from law enforcement, as well as the source and nature of the funds, and ultimately to remit the funds back to drug traffickers in Mexico,” Franzblau said.

At the direction of co-conspirator Haiping Pan, Franzblau said, Long “facilitated up to one to two money pickups per week in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and other areas, including Atlanta, in amounts, typically ranging between $150,000 to $500,000 per pickup.”

He described how Long and Pan used BlackBerry Messenger to communicate and how the serial number on a dollar bill in the money courier’s possession served as a transaction identifier and later a receipt. 

“The money laundering couriers then arranged to meet with other intermediaries involved in the money laundering operation, to deliver the money to them, so that they could facilitate the mirror transaction,” Franzblau said. “After the mirror transactions were completed, other intermediaries who have received the money from the couriers sent the couriers copies of the associated Chinese bank-to-bank wire transfer which proceeds which the money laundering couriers then forwarded to Long who forwarded the information to Pan.”

The judge asked Long, “Did you do the things that [the prosecutor] said that you did?”

Long answered, “Yes, I did, your honour.”

The judge also asked, “Is there any part of his statement, even if you think it's a minor detail, that you disagree with?”

After a brief pause, Long said, “No.”

Long might have avoided custody and hard jail time in the U.S. had he not booked a flight through YVR due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After witnessing his wife give birth to their second child in November 2019 in Taiwan, Long returned to Guangdong province in China to visit his mother, according to evidence at a hearing of the Immigration and Refugee Board. When COVID-19 spread from Wuhan to other Chinese provinces, Taiwan banned entry for travellers from Guangdong. Since Long has both permanent resident status and business holdings in Mexico, he arranged to travel there to reunite with his family on a flight routed through Vancouver.

After his YVR arrest, where he was interrogated and his Huawei smartphone was searched, Long was transferred to the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam and held in quarantine, even though he did not appear to be infected with the coronavirus.

The immigration court in Vancouver heard that Long worked as a purchasing manager for a business owned by his in-laws that imports toys and clocks from Guangdong and sells from a warehouse in Mexico.

Long, who holds a degree in international trade and economy from Guangdong University of Technology, had no prior criminal record. Long had previously invested in Mexican hotels, restaurants and karaoke bars, as well as Bitcoin.