Southern California woman pleads guilty in $150-million counterfeit postage scheme

FILE - U.S. Postal Service trucks park outside a post office, Jan. 29, 2024, in Wheeling, Ill. The number of robberies of postal carriers grew again in 2023 and the number of injuries nearly doubled, even as the U.S. Postal Service launched crackdown aimed at addressing postal crime. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
A Southern California woman has pleaded guilty in a $150-million counterfeit postage scheme. Pictured are Postal Service trucks parked outside a post office in January. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

A San Gabriel Valley woman who was accused of using counterfeit postage on tens of millions of packages pleaded guilty Friday to defrauding the United States Postal Service out of more than $150 million.

Lijuan “Angela” Chen, 51, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and one count of using counterfeit postage, according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department.

Chen, a resident of Walnut, has been in federal custody since she was arrested in May 2023. A co-defendant, 51-year-old Chuanhua “Hugh” Hu — who authorities say is considered a fugitive hiding in China — has been charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., three counts of passing and possessing counterfeit obligations of the U.S. and one count of forging and counterfeiting postage stamps.

In all, authorities allege that the duo mailed more than 34 million parcels containing counterfeit postage labels from January 2020 through last May.

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According to Chen’s plea agreement, she and Hu owned and operated a City of Industry-based package shipping company that offered shipping by U.S. Mail for China-based logistics businesses.

Hu then began to print duplicate and counterfeit NetStamps in an effort to cut the cost of postage, authorities allege.

In November 2019, officials say, Hu became aware that federal authorities were investigating, so he fled to China, where he continued to create counterfeit postage and avoid detection. Federal authorities believe he used a computer program to fabricate shipping labels.

Meanwhile, Chen remained in the San Gabriel Valley, managing the warehouses the two used to ship packages for their business. The pair then began using counterfeit postage to ship items by U.S. Mail in 2020. Authorities say they would receive packages from China-based companies and apply the fake postage to ship them through the Postal Service.

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According to court documents, the red flags raised by fake postage included the reuse of “intelligent barcode data” already applied to other mailed packages. Those data are used to prove the labels have been paid for prior to shipping.

Multiple packages shipped by Chen and Hu included counterfeit Priority Mail postage, authorities said.

Under the terms of Chen’s plea agreement, she will forfeit funds in her bank accounts, insurance policies and real estate in Chino, Chino Hills, Diamond Bar, South El Monte, Walnut and West Covina. She is scheduled to be sentenced in August, and faces up to five years in prison for each count.

“This defendant participated in a fraud scheme that caused massive losses to our nation’s postal service,” U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said in a statement. “My office will continue to focus on holding fraudsters accountable and bringing justice to victims everywhere.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.