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Eleven from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, California charged in $25 million drug and money laundering scheme



Photo courtesy of FBI

BOSTON – Eleven individuals from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and California have been charged in connection with their alleged involvement in a sophisticated international money laundering and drug trafficking organization involving cocaine and MDMA (ecstasy).

This morning, five defendants were arrested in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and will appear in federal court in Boston later today. Three defendants were arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y. and are expected to appear today in the Eastern District of New York. Three defendants remain at large.

“We allege that this group of individuals conspired to sell deadly narcotics in Massachusetts communities then laundered millions of dollars’ worth of their drug proceeds through a global network to conceal their illegal activity. Thanks to the incredible collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement, this alleged large-scale criminal enterprise has been stopped in its tracks,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. “Money is the lifeblood to drug trafficking activity and those who launder directly contribute to the ongoing drug crisis. Dirty money always leaves a trace, and no amount of laundering – whether through financial institutions or digital currency exchanges – will allow perpetrators to evade detection by law enforcement. That is a promise.”

“Today’s arrests by FBI Boston’s Organized Crime Task Force have disrupted a sophisticated transnational criminal organization that is accused of trafficking kilos of cocaine and laundering at least $25 million in illicit proceeds from their illegal businesses all over the world,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. “Now, these individuals know the FBI is just as committed to eradicating organized crime as this group was to allegedly embracing it. This investigation should be a warning to others engaged in similar conduct: we will infiltrate your network, shut you down, and bring you to justice, no matter where you are.”

According to the charging documents, following a months-long undercover operation, investigators identified Jin Hua Zhang as the leader of a criminal organization whose members laundered millions of dollars, conspired to distribute multiple kilograms of cocaine in Massachusetts and operated throughout the United States, including the greater Boston area, as well as overseas. It is alleged that Zhang directed his co-defendants and others to deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and millions of dollars in wire transfers and bank deposits to undercover agents in exchange for cryptocurrency. The funds were proceeds of drug trafficking and various fraud schemes that were based in the United States and abroad. Zhang allegedly believed cryptocurrency would enable his organization to transfer illicit funds without detection by banks’ security teams or law enforcement. In total, it is alleged that Zhang and his co-conspirators laundered more than $25 million.

According to court documents, to date, funds have been traced from Zhang’s organization to Hong Kong and elsewhere in China, India, Cambodia and Brazil, among other locations.

Additionally, the investigation also revealed that Zhang and members of his organization allegedly conspired to distribute kilogram-sized quantities of cocaine and MDMA to undercover agents and cooperating witnesses. For example, it is alleged that on May 25, 2022, Zhang directed a co-defendant to deliver more than one kilogram of cocaine to an undercover agent in New Jersey. On Aug. 12, 2022, Zhang and co-defendant Yanbing Chen allegedly worked together to deliver more than three kilograms of cocaine to an undercover agent in Boston.

The charge of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and up to life in prison, at least five years of supervised release and a fine of up to $10 million. The charge of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and up to 40 years in prison, at least four years of supervised release and a fine of up to $5 million. The charge of money laundering conspiracy provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $500,000, or twice the amount involved, whichever is greater. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.

U.S. Attorney Rollins and FBI SAC Bonavolonta made the announcement today. The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Boston Organized Crime Task Force. Valuable assistance was provided by the Massachusetts State Police and the Quincy and Altamonte Springs (Fla.) Police Departments. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Pohl and Brian A. Fogerty of Rollins’ Criminal Division are prosecuting the case.

The following defendants have been charged:

(1) Jin Hua Zhang, 35, of Staten Island, N.Y.;

(2) Licheng Huang, 39, of Braintree, Mass.;

(3) Feng Chen, 38, of Canton, Mass.;

(4) Roger Luo, 35, of Winthrop, Mass.;

(5) Thong Nguyen, 28, of Saugus, Mass.;

(6) Augustin Villa, 59, of Cranston, R.I.;


(8) Rongjian Li, 35, of Staten Island, N.Y.;


(10) Yanbing Chen, 28, of Staten Island, N.Y.; and


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