How a crew laundered millions in cartel cash across NYC

The sight of the state trooper’s flashing light was enough to send the Shaui Sun into panic as the Queens man drove down a highway in Georgia in a rented SUV.

Sun and his passenger, Darren Hing Li, were nearly 800 miles from their home in New York City – and dragged more than a quarter of a million dollars in drug cash.

Police pulled over the couple’s GMC Terrain and ordered them to step out, noting that they were anxious to come face to face with police.

“Mr Sun seemed very nervous when I spoke to me. He was unable to stand still and I could see his carotid artery pulse rapidly in his neck,” the soldier later wrote in a police report.

The officer searched the men’s SUV and found a suitcase and backpack filled with 33 bundles of $ 20 banknotes, two stacks of $ 100 banknotes and a money machine.

Police seized the cash – $ 350,000 in total – during the August 2018 stop. Authorities then cut the men loose – an orchestrated move to apparently cast a wider net for more suspects, according to police and federal officials.

The run-in eventually helped federal agents uncover a multi-million dollar money laundering scheme run by a crew of Asian men in New York City.

View of Chinatown on Manhattan.
The group operated in neighborhoods throughout New York City with high Asian populations, including Flushing and Bensonhurst.
Getty Images

For years, the crew has moved and laundered money in Big Apple neighborhoods like Flushing, Queens and Sunset Park and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn at the instigation of drug smugglers from the South and Midwest.

Since the fateful stop in 2018, the investigation has captured five men: Li, Sun, Queens livery taxi driver Jian Feng Wu and two other suspected money launderers, Xian de Jiang and Xiao Yu Wang.

The thread

Before Li and Sun were stopped on I-85 northeast of Atlanta, the federal drug authority had spent the day spying on the couple when the duo met with cartel-linked drug smugglers in a Walmart parking lot and in a nearby apartment building approx. 30 miles north of Georgia’s capital.

Agents tapped the cell phone of notorious drug smuggler Jose “Chiquis” Herrera-Guzman – and watched from earth and sky as he and his posse handed over the more than a quarter of a million dollars in cash to the two New Yorkers.

Jian Feng Wu is pictured outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse on March 31, 2022.
Jian Feng Wu, a Flushing livry driver, was paid large sums to pick up bags of cash and drop them off around town.
Alec Tabak

Li and Sun’s trip to Georgia was one of several out-of-state races the couple undertook during 2017 and 2018 as part of their money laundering operation, according to court documents.

During that period, the men, both in their 30s, traveled to Georgia and also traveled to Detroit, Mich., A number of times to pick up cash, which they would later drop off at drops in New York or wash themselves, authorities said. Crew members also picked up cash in Chicago, according to FB.

To wash the dough, Sun set up two accounts in a TD Bank in the name of a suspected company with a headquarters built in Flushing, authorities said.

From 2017 to 2018, he deposited several checks totaling exactly $ 100,000 into the account. The Feds discovered that the checks were written by someone else, who was later convicted of tax evasion for writing fake checks in exchange for cash.

More than $ 5 million of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin along with $ 850,000 in cash have been put on the table.
The crew of men dragged around and laundered millions of dollars in drug money, according to authorities.

Sun also laundered the money by spending it on a variety of luxury items at a jewelry exchange in Baltimore, including a $ 10,520 Vacheron Constantin wristwatch and a $ 4,234 Bulgari ring, according to federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the meeting with the Georgia State soldier did not slow down Li, a Baruch graduate who speaks four languages ​​and attended Brooklyn Technical High School.

During 2018, federal agents who had him under surveillance seized more than $ 500,000 from him during various passes, after which he was eventually released while continuing to be tracked.

The cash seizures included more than $ 20,000 confiscated in a mall parking lot on Willis Avenue in Roslyn, Long Island and more than $ 39,000 taken at New York Presbyterian Hospital on Main Street in Flushing.

“By engaging in this conduct, the defendant and others played a crucial role in the laundering of millions of dollars in drug money,” federal prosecutors wrote in a judgment note to Li in November 2021.

From ‘Boom’ to bust

Jian Feng Wu is pictured outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse on March 31, 2022.
Wu was determined to be a low-level player in the scheme, was sentenced to time served in Manhattan federal court.
Alec Tabak

Around the same time that Li was sailing around laundering the drug money, Jian Feng Wu, a taxi driver in Flushing, received a business proposal from one of his customers to join the crew.

A man whom Wu later identified to authorities as “TVB” or “Boom” would pay the cabbie hundreds of dollars in exchange for picking up bags of cash and dropping them around town.

Wu, who escaped a Dickens life in China’s Fujian province to emigrate to Queens as an 18-year-old, agreed to join the hijackers.

At one of the drops in April 2018, Wu and a colleague, Xian de Jiang, met a suspected drug smuggler in the parking lot of an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet on Francis Lewis Boulevard in Bayside, Queens.

Exterior view of a Chinese resturaunt.
Wu and a colleague were running a business with a suspected drug smuggler in the parking lot of a Chinese buffet in Bayside, Queens.
Getty Images

Wu picked up a red bag filled with more than $ 150,000 from the Spanish-speaking man and drove off with Jiang. Law enforcement officials who monitored the stock market pulled them over and seized the cash.

The five members of the crew were arrested in 2019 and charged by the Manhattan Federal Court with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Georgia’s drug dealer Herrera-Guzman was sentenced last week separately to drug charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison, according to local reports.

A logo reading DEA Special Agent is pictured in the Office of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
Authorities have reportedly been following the group since 2018.
AFP via Getty Images

DEA Atlanta agent Robert J. Murphy said a Mexican cartel supplied Herrera-Guzman with heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time of his arrest.

Wu, for his part, on Thursday was sentenced to time served by Manhattan federal court judge Laura Taylor Swain, who agreed with his lawyer, Chris Madiou, that he was a low-level player in the scheme.

The verdict came three months after Li was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to money laundering charges. Sun pleaded guilty to misconduct – deliberately concealing one’s knowledge of a crime – and is set to be convicted later this month.

Wu’s accused partner, Xian de Jiang, provided bail and allegedly fled – and has not appeared in court since. A fifth suspect, Xiao Yu Wang, has pleaded not guilty and could, according to court documents, go to court in Manhattan’s federal court later this year.

A representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

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