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Chinese national charged in RI with smuggling cigs

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LAURA CRIMALDI | June 29, 2012 02:21 PM EST | AP

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Chinese national is facing charges that he smuggled more than $1 million worth of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes into the United States, federal authorities in Rhode Island said Friday.

Lin Xiao Wei is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday in U.S. District Court in Providence. Federal prosecutors say Wei has been in federal custody since June 4, when he was arrested in Miami. He is charged with selling and dispensing a counterfeit tobacco product and fraudulently importing a counterfeit tobacco product.

An affidavit filed in court detailing the accusations against the 32-year-old Wei also alleges he discussed dealing in counterfeit Viagra and claimed that his associates purchased the mold for a soon-to-be released Nike sneaker. The affidavit says because of the purchase, counterfeit versions of the shoe would be available for sale before the sneaker made it to U.S. stores.

A message left Friday for Wei's public defender wasn't immediately returned.

Federal agents began investigating Wei, who is also known as Marvin, in February, according to an affidavit signed by John A'Vant, a lieutenant with the Rhode Island state police who also serves on a task force organized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations.

Authorities used a confidential source who arranged a deal with Wei and met with him in Dubai and Miami, A'Vant wrote.

On Feb. 10, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used an undercover business entity to wire $56,150 to a bank account in Hong Kong tied to Wei, A'Vant wrote.

The money was a half payment for a 20-foot container of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes, A'Vant wrote. In total, the government paid more than $136,000 for the cigarettes, shipping and customs fees, the affidavit said.

The cigarettes were shipped from China in a container that claimed to hold 696 cartons of leather products that were bound for Rhode Island, according to the office of Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha.

The container arrived on April 27 in Miami, where federal agents found 17 pallets of cigarettes inside labeled as Marlboro, A'Vant wrote. Investigators sent a sampling of cigarettes to the parent company of Marlboro cigarettes manufacturer Phillip Morris International Inc. of Richmond, Va., for testing. The testing found that the cigarettes weren't real Marlboro cigarettes, A'Vant wrote.

Wei arrived in New York on May 28 and later met with the confidential source and an undercover law enforcement officer in a hotel room in Miami on June 3, A'Vant wrote.

During the meeting, which was recorded without Wei's knowledge, Wei said he was visiting the United States for the first time and was concerned about being discovered by the FBI, A'Vant wrote.

During the conversation, the undercover officer discussed buying more counterfeit cigarettes as well as counterfeit Viagra from Wei, A'Vant wrote. By the time Wei arrived in the U.S., federal agents had already wired him $9,450 to purchase about 900 counterfeit Viagra tablets, according to the affidavit. Wei told the officer he had previously shipped counterfeit Viagra to the U.S. and London, A'Vant wrote.

During that same meeting, Wei also said his associates spent $200,000 to purchase the mold of a Nike sneaker that was about to be released and planned to make a counterfeit version of the shoe available before it went up for sale in U.S. stores.