By Joe Beck
A man involved in the trafficking of $1.5 million in contraband cigarettes for 18 months was sentenced to three years and five months in federal prison, according to online documents filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg.
Cheng Zeng was one of at least two dozen defendants who attempted to make millions by shuttling cigarettes from Virginia to New York, according to authorities.
Prosecutors say Zeng participated in 30 illegal transactions that involved the buying and selling of cigarettes worth more than $1.5 million. He bought thousands of cartons of cigarettes in Woodstock and Stephens City as part of an effort with others to resell them for millions of dollars more in New York City, according to court documents.
In one transaction, Zeng paid $19,440 to an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a cigarette seller.
The sentence imposed by Judge Michael F. Urbanski also included one year probation upon his release. Urbanski recommended to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that Zeng serve his sentence in New York City.
Zeng was sentenced on one count of conspiring to distribute contraband cigarettes, a charge to which he pleaded guilty after the prosecution agreed to drop 22 related counts.
Zeng's attorney, Michael T. Hemenway of Charlottesville, had asked that Zeng serve no time in prison beyond confinement since his arrest. Hemenway called for a period of home detention as a possible prison alternative.
Zeng had a minor role in it compared to others, Hemenway argued.
Urbanski's sentence came closer to the three years and 10 months in prison and three years probation called for by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jed Terrien in his sentencing memorandum.
Terrien said he was especially concerned about the huge amounts of money to be made in cigarette trafficking. The millions of dollars to be made entice people to break the law against such activity, especially when courts impose sentences that are "miniscule at best," he wrote.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or email@example.com