According to her lawyer, Kong grew up poor in China and was the only child in her family to graduate from high school. She moved to the United States in 2004 and is a legal permanent U.S. resident, according to the lawyer, Nathaniel Hsieh, who said Kong’s husband is a handyman, her daughter is a nutritionist, and her son is a chef. Kong, who lives in New York, got at least $150,000 for her part in the scheme, prosecutors said. Kong underwent heart surgery in late 2020 and tested positive for COVID-19, Hsieh said.
Kong — who isn’t fluent in English and needed an interpreter in court — admitted she worked as a courier picking up what authorities said were Mexican drug proceeds between 2016 and 2017. Her average pickup: $500,000. She caught a break — her sentence was less than half of the possible maximum — because she cooperated with the federal investigation. Her lawyer had asked the judge for an even lighter sentence — just a year and a day in prison.
She delivered the money to people who transferred it to China in complex “mirror” transactions. The money was then sent the same way from China to Mexico, where the drug cartels got it. On Friday, a federal judge in Chicago sentenced Kong to a relatively light 40 months in prison for her role in one of those operations.
In her deal with prosecutors, Kong agreed to forfeit that money and also to turn over to the government the $150,000 she was paid. The $24 million that Kong was accused of helping to launder represents a sum equivalent to the sale of 750 kilograms of cocaine and 480 kilograms of heroin at current street prices, prosecutors said. Federal agents seized more than $1.1 million in cash tied to Kong in Chicago and New York in 2017, according to court records.
But prosecutors said reasonable people would have known they were handling drug money. They said Kong “stuck her head in the sand” because it was so profitable. Even though she helped federal investigators — at one point secretly recording a call to one of her bosses in the laundering ring — Kong said she didn’t know she was dealing with drug money.
The News Highlights
- Woman in Chinese Money Laundering Squad: Didn’t Know That $24 Million I Earned Was From Cartels
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