Eight people from Massachusetts and New Hampshire have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Boston for their alleged roles in an elaborate money laundering operation in the city's Chinatown neighborhood.
U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins announced Friday that following an investigation dubbed Operation Good Fortune, the group of people, which includes the owners of a restaurant in Chinatown, were indicted on conspiracy to commit money laundering and unlicensed money transmitting. One person also faced a drug charge.
"This crew is accused of using their family-owned restaurant in Chinatown as a front for an elaborate, international money laundering scheme and money transmitting business in which they conducted tens of millions of dollars in off the books transactions to circumvent our country’s laws, and hide the source of their income," Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, said in a statement, noting that drug trafficking and money laundering go hand in hand.
The people indicted are Shi Rong Zhang, 48, of Windham, New Hampshire; Qiu Mei Zeng, 47, of Quincy; Vincent Feng, 32, of Quincy; Da Zeng, 30, of Massachusetts; Wei Qing Zeng, 58, of Quincy; Xian Rong Zeng, 45, of Hanover; and Qiu Fang Zeng, 59, of Windham, NH. Chengzou Liu, 36, of Braintree, was also indicted on conspiracy to commit money laundering as well as possession with intent to distribute marijuana. It wasn't immediately clear if they had attorneys who could speak to the charges.
Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.
Qiu Mei Zeng and her former husband, Zhang, co-own China Gourmet, a restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, charging documents show. Zhang is also a registered owner of Wonderful Electronics, an electronics and restaurant supply business based in Hanover. Co-conspirators of the formerly married couple include family members Wei Qing Zeng, Xian Rong Zeng and Qiu Fang Zeng.
According to Rollins, the defendants allegedly used these businesses to launder tens of millions of dollars' worth of drug trafficking proceeds, as well as proceeds from participating in a trade-based scheme that used stolen and/or fraudulent gift cards to purchase and ship thousands of Apple products internationally.
“These defendants are alleged to have moved tens of millions of dollars in illicit proceeds as part of sophisticated money laundering and transmitting schemes operating out of seemingly lawful businesses that serve Massachusetts residents,” Rollins said in a statement. “Without money, there is no drug trade. Laundering drug profits is fundamental to drug trafficking activity. By eliminating the means by which drug suppliers clean their illicit proceeds, we cut off the life blood of their operations: money. In doing so, we help significantly limit the flow of drugs trafficked in our communities."
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
"We need to do everything possible to make the Commonwealth safer and combat the drug crisis," Rollins added. "This indictment should serve as a serious warning to both drug traffickers and business operators who engage in illicit money laundering: your conduct is criminal, and you will be prosecuted under federal law.”
Rollins said a months-long wiretap investigation identified Liu as a marijuana trafficker who allegedly laundered his drug proceeds through Qiu Mei Zeng and Zhang's businesses. Authorities allege Liu regularly delivered large amounts of bulk drug proceeds, typically in amounts greater than $30,000, to China Gourmet, and to Qiu Mei Zeng, who then laundered the money via electronic transfers.
In March, investigators allegedly seized over $250,000 of suspected marijuana proceeds that were being transported by Wei Qing Zeng from New York to China Gourmet in Boston. The cash was found inside Wei Qing Zeng’s vehicle, hidden under packaged frozen meat products, Rollins said.
The charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and possession with intent to distribute marijuana provide for sentences of up to 20 years in prison. The charge of unlicensed money transmitting provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison.