A federal appeals court upheld the conviction of two men found guilty of participating in an alien-smuggling ring that held and tortured illegal immigrants in Prince George’s County.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond affirmed the 1994 convictions of Chang Han Chen, 30, and Chong Chao Chen, 27, on kidnapping, conspiracy, alien harboring, use of a firearm in an act of violence and other counts.
A U.S. District Court jury in Baltimore had found that the two were part of a ring that brought about 105 Chinese nationals to Maryland in exchange for a future payment of at least $20,000 each.
Upon arrival in the United States, many of the aliens were taken to the basement of a safe house in Mitchellville.
For 15 days, the smuggling ring held the aliens at gunpoint, demanding they raise the money from their relatives in China, according to court documents.
The FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service raided the house in Mitchellville, two others in Maryland and one in New York on April 5, 1994.
In Mitchellville, agents found 64 aliens living in squalid conditions, some with broken bones from beatings, according to court documents.
Chong was described as the leader of the armed guards at the Mitchellville house. Chang had joined the gang as a guard to help pay off his debt to the ring.
The two were convicted in 1994. Chong was sentenced to 26 years and 10 months in prison, Chang to 14 years.
In their appeal, Chong and Chang said U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin had erred by allowing prosecutors to disqualify three black prospective jurors.
But the appeals court ruled that the prosecution’s request to remove the prospective jurors was not based on race.
The appellate judges also rejected unanimously a defense claim that the testimony of co-defendants who entered into plea bargain agreements during the trial should not have been allowed.
The judges were split on the issue of whether the jury received the correct instructions about the firearms charges.
Six of the 12 judges, in their ruling Friday, agreed with the defense, one short of the majority needed to overturn the convictions on that charge.
Defense attorney Fred Bennett, a professor at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law, said Tuesday he was “too depressed over the opinion” to have decided whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.