Sentencing for Chinese national who illegally ‘tipped’ LAX customs officer

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Chinese national could be sentenced to prison today for handing a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official a so-called “red envelope” containing an illegal gift of $6,000 on behalf of a friend who was trying to enter the country via Los Angeles International Airport.

Zulei Wang — who described himself as a Southland resident working as a travel agent specializing in obtaining travel documents — pleaded guilty in January to a single federal count of giving an illegal gratuity to a public official.

The case began last May 16 when co-defendant Qingbin Pei arrived at LAX on a flight from China. Pei was denied entry based on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database search that revealed he and his wife had previously come to the country for the birth of their children, a purpose hidden from immigration officials, documents filed in Los Angeles federal court show.

Pei was placed inside a CBP detention area to await a return flight to China. The following day, speaking in Mandarin, Pei offered a Chinese-speaking customs officer cash in return for stamping his passport and allowing entry. The officer informed his superiors and a sting was devised.

Pei called his wife in the Los Angeles area, saying he needed to give the officer a “red envelope,” a cash gift or “tip” presented during holidays or special occasions in Chinese societies — but in this context referring to a bribe, federal prosecutors said.

Court documents state that Pei’s wife called back and said a man — Wang — would arrive with the money. When Wang arrived, meeting Pei and the officer at an airport 7-Eleven, the officer accepted the envelope containing $6,000 and DHS officers waiting nearby arrested the defendants.

Pei pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery and was sentenced in October to a year and a day in federal prison. He is expected to be deported to China upon his release, according to his plea agreement.

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