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Trump rally 'VIP' among six Chinese nationals charged with drug money laundering

Oct 16, 2020
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A Chinese national whose Instagram page features pictures of him wearing a VIP pass at a 2018 rally for President Donald Trump, is now on U.S. soil after being charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine and laundering the illicit funds, according to court documents filed earlier this week.

Tao Liu, whose alias is Antony Liu, is in the custody of the Alexandria (Virginia) Sheriff’s Office, where he will be held pending his initial appearance likely sometime next week.

Liu is one of six Chinese nationals charged in a conspiracy that allegedly netted at least $30 million from 2008 to late last month and involved funneling illicit drug money to Latin American traffickers, the indictment says.

Tao Liu with a VIP pass at a Trump rally in Wheeler, W.V., on Sept. 29, 2020. (via Instagram)Tao Liu with a VIP pass at a Trump rally in Wheeler, W.V., on Sept. 29, 2020. (via Instagram)
Tao Liu with a VIP pass at a Trump rally in Wheeler, W.V., on Sept. 29, 2020. (via Instagram)

Federal prosecutors allege that the men, in part, laundered their drug proceeds by purchasing products in the U.S. and shipping them to China. The products were then sold through “black market merchants” in China, the indictment says, with the money sent back to drug traffickers in Latin America, “often Mexicans,” through Chinese currency.

The effort, the indictment says, “required special care and skill” in money laundering.

Liu was also charged with trying to bribe two men, who turned out to be undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents, in order to get fraudulent passports.

An Instagram page belonging to Liu features several photos of him at a September 2018 Trump rally in Wheeler, W.Va.

The Instagram page includes numerous photos from the rally as well as an image of a red USA hat with a signature that appears to be the president’s.

“Thanks for the gift from Mr. President Trump,” reads a post that accompanies the photo.

NBC News found no records indicating that Liu donated to the Trump campaign and it would be illegal for Liu, as a foreign national, to donate money to a political campaign.

Neither the White House nor the Trump campaign responded to requests for comment.

Liu, who was taken into custody in Alexandria, Va., could not be reached. It was not immediately clear if he had hired a lawyer.

Image: Tao Liu (Alexandria Sheriff's Office)Image: Tao Liu (Alexandria Sheriff's Office)
Image: Tao Liu (Alexandria Sheriff’s Office)

The other five men were identified in court documents as Xizhi Li, Jianxing Chen, Jingyan Li, Eric Yong Woo, Jiayu Chen. The men were all born in China but now reside in New York, California and several Latin American countries, according to the indictment.

Federal prosecutors allege that Xizhi Li, who went by the aliases Juan Lee and had a WeChat name of “JL 007” and “SUPERKING 99,” developed close ties with drug traffickers and cartels in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, and elsewhere to obtain contracts to move drug proceeds for the dealers.

The other five men are accused of working with Xizhi Li to help launder the drug money in a scheme that began in 2008 and lasted up until late last month, the indictment says.

Xizhi Li allegedly had bank accounts with BBVA Compass in Miami, Florida, which he used as part of the conspiracy.

In a 2019 DEA seizure application for BBVA accounts in Tennessee, investigators told the court that in the course of investigating a local drug gang they determined that the cocaine in the greater Memphis area was being supplied by the Sinaola cartel and the money laundering efforts for those transactions were allegedly directed by Xizhi Li.

BBVA Compass declined to comment.

The indictment also says Xizhi Li owned and operated a casino in Guatemala City, Guatemala, which he used to launder money and provided him a place to meet drug traffickers.

Tao Liu at a Trump rally in Wheeler, W.V., on Sept. 29, 2020. (via Instagram)Tao Liu at a Trump rally in Wheeler, W.V., on Sept. 29, 2020. (via Instagram)
Tao Liu at a Trump rally in Wheeler, W.V., on Sept. 29, 2020. (via Instagram)

Liu is accused of trying to fraudulently obtain passports for multiple people in April. He allegedly struck a deal with undercover agents who told him they knew someone at the State Department who could illegally provide passports at a cost of $150,000 each.

The indictment says that Liu agreed to deposit about $5,000 in cryptocurrency and $5,000 in cash into what turned out to be a DEA-controlled account in order to start the process of getting the passports.

Liu was also hit with a separate money laundering charge for allegedly moving some of the funds for the bribes through cryptocurrency.

He attended several events in New York City and the surrounding area with Trump associate Joe Cinque, according to press reports and social media posts. Cinque presented him with an award when Liu held a kickoff for his investment company called Blue Water Capital. Little about Blue Water Capital, purportedly located at 1 Rockefeller Plaza, is known publicly.

A website for the firm is now defunct. There is no listing at 1 Rockefeller Plaza for Liu’s company and at least one firm that Liu touted as a business connection in a company video says they’ve never heard of the man.

Cinque did not respond to a request for comment.

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