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Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 02:29 GMT
China immigrant smuggler jailed
Detained illegal immigrants from China
Cheng was described as one of the biggest "snakeheads" of all time
A woman has been jailed for 35 years by a federal court in New York for running an immigrant-smuggling ring.

Cheng Chui Ping ran a multi-million dollar scheme which transported hundreds of illegal immigrants to the US in packed cargo ships.

During one operation in 1993, a ship carrying immigrants ran aground off the US coast and 10 people drowned.

The 57-year-old was convicted of charges including conspiracy to commit people smuggling and money laundering.

Cheng, also known as Sister Ping, pleaded for more than an hour for a lenient sentence, saying she was a hard-working immigrant who loved the United States and had been terrorised by Chinatown gangs.

US district judge Michael Mukasey described her speech as "simply incredible" and sentenced her to the maximum penalty allowed by law.

He said she had exploited illegal aliens who were desperate for a better life - transporting them in inhumane conditions and using violent gangsters to collect debts and ransoms.

'Queen snakehead'

Prosecutors described Cheng as one of the biggest "snakeheads", or human traffickers, of all time.

She was found guilty of financing the shipment of about 300 Chinese immigrants in June 1993 on board the freighter, the Golden Venture, which ran aground off New York.

Ten people died when they tried to swim ashore. Prosecutors said Cheng also financed a 1998 trip in which a ship capsized off the coast of Guatemala, killing 14 people.

Cheng's attorney, Lawrence Hochheiser, said her conviction was a mistake and her role in the Golden Venture was lending money to the people who did the actual smuggling.

Cheng, who was arrested in Hong Kong in 2000 following six years as a fugitive, is appealing against her conviction.

One charge is still pending against her - an allegation that her smuggling operation took hostages for ransom.

A jury could not decide last year whether she was guilty of the charge. A date for a retrial has yet to be set.

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