2006-03-24 / Community

Big Sister Ping Sails To Prison

Golden Venture Smuggler Sentenced to 35 Years
By Howard Schwach

The smuggler of illegal Chinese immigrants whose greed launched the ship that made Rockaway famous 13 years ago has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for her actions.

Cheng Chui Ping, better known in New York's Chinatown as "Big Sister Ping," was hit with the maximum sentence after being found guilty in federal court in June of last year on charges of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling, money laundering and trafficking in ransom proceeds. She was found not guilty of a charge of hostage-taking.

Ten of the 300 immigrants aboard the rusting ship died in Rockaway's raging surf when the ship was grounded off Breezy Point. Dozens of immigrants who jumped from the ship were found wandering in that gated community by police officers responding to the call. Most of those who were captured, as well as those who were left on the ship when officials boarded it later in the day were given political asylum in the United States. According to court testimony, each of the 300 had paid upwards of $40,000 to Ping and her organization in return for being smuggled into the United States.

On June 6, 1993 the "Golden Venture" was intentionally grounded on the Gateway Urban Recreation Area beach at Breezy Point. Frightened men jumped from the deck into the surf.

Reporters from all over the world flocked to Rockaway to see the spectacle and cover the story.

Although the immigrants expected to be off-loaded at a dock somewhere in the area, the ship's operator testified during Ping's trial that he decided to beach the ship and ordered the 400 men to swim for their lives to the beach.

Ping fled to China in 1994 and was beyond the reach of American law enforcement officials until she was found in Hong Kong in 2000 with false papers. She was held until 2003, when she was extradited to the United States for trial.

At her sentencing, Ping argued that she was a poor, hard-working immigrant who had been terrorized by a Chinatown gang and forced to fund the Golden Venture debacle. She said that she was only protecting her four children when she set up the "Snakehead" trip.

Evidence at the trial, however, showed that Ping made millions in her Chinatown businesses and in smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States.

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