Henrico Co. cigarette bust: More than $10 million funneled into smuggling operation

UPDATE: Ihab Samir El Ela and Qiuyue Chen both pleaded no contest in response to charges that they were in possession with the intent to distribute 40,000 cigarettes. This was Chen’s second offense.

Both will be sentenced Friday, April 28 in Henrico Circuit Court.

All other charges against them were previously Nolle Prosequied.

A third suspect, Fu Chen pleaded guilty Wednesday to the following charges: Fraudulent purchase of cigarettes greater than 5,000, possession with the intent to distribute 40,000 cigarettes, and possession with the intent to distribute 40,000 cigarettes second offense.

His sentencing has been set for May 10, also in Henrico Circuit Court.

Qiuyue Chen and Ihab Ibou El Ela have had their trials withdrawn and their sentencings are set for April 28.


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HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — New details are emerging about a massive bust in Henrico County. 8News broke the story earlier this week.

Police shut down a multi-million dollar cigarette trafficking ring that was operating out of Henrico County. The court documents on the case read like a movie script.

Details of the nearly two-year investigation involve confidential informants, GPS tracking devices and lots undercover surveillance.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the masterminds behind the operation spent more than $10 million dollars on cigarettes in the Richmond area, then paid people to run the tobacco up I-95 to the Big Apple. Cigarettes in New York City cost more than double what they do in Virginia.

This is the home where police say the smuggling ring was operating out of.
This is the home where police say the smuggling ring was operating out of.

Qiuyue Chen, her husband Fu Chen and Ihab Abou El Ela are all in the Henrico County jail. On Thursday, we learned a fourth person – 37-year-old Song Zheng of Brooklyn, New York – has also been arrested.

A neighbor of the Chens, who lived in the West End’s Wyndham community, says he often noticed them unloading something into their home.

BC786F0D5F324DE7AE29B9CB603F8E5D“I would see them back up to their garage and be unloading and it just seemed a little more frequent than normal,” explains neighbor Aaron Chupp. “But not something that I was going to raise my alarm to poke my nose into or anything.”

Court records indicate the suspects set up phony businesses so they could purchase millions of dollars of cigarettes at wholesale prices.

They reportedly bought a lot of those cigarettes at Sam’s Clubs throughout the area.

The suspects also allegedly set up several tobacco storefronts including CC Tobacco in the Hungarybrook Shopping Center and Tobacco Zone on South Laburnum Avenue. Investigators suspect those storefronts were used to launder money.

There are details in court records that some of those cigarettes traveled to New York in the luggage compartments of charter buses.

Henrico Police weren’t alone in busting the operation. Richmond Police, the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, the New York City Sheriff’s Office and even Homeland Security were a part of the investigation.

All three suspects face a slew of charges, including money laundering, racketeering and possession with the intent to distribute tax paid cigarettes.

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