Two Chinese nationals who traveled to Western New York to pull off a $24,000 home invasion robbery in the Town of Lancaster were sentenced to prison terms Friday in State Supreme Court.
Authorities suspect that the two men -- and a third accomplice who will be sentenced next month -- are associates of a crime gang that has targeted owners of Chinese restaurants and related businesses in several states.
Justice Ronald H. Tills sentenced Pan Zhi Feng, 26, of Brooklyn, to 7 1/2 years in prison. Li Ping, 24, a New York City resident who also faces kidnapping charges in Manhattan, was sentenced to 10 years.
The two men and an associate, Li Fei Huang of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to the robbery of Jia Rong Lin at Lin's Lancaster home on June 16. Police said Lin was roughed up, threatened with a screwdriver and bound at the wrists and ankles after the attackers broke into his home and surprised him.
So far, police have been unable to connect the three men to at least six other robberies, extortions and violent home-invasion crimes aimed at Chinese restaurant owners in Western New York. FBI experts say such crimes have been growing in number in recent years in New York state and New Jersey.
The unsolved crimes took place in Olean, West Seneca, Fredonia and Lakewood, dating back to 1996.
"We believe they may have come here because somebody tipped them off that a prosperous Chinese restaurant owner lived in our town," said Lancaster Detective Donald Lynch. "But we never were able to find out who they were associated with, what was behind the robbery, or whether it was connected to any other robberies."
Huang, 24, is being held without bail until his sentencing on March 9.
Prosecutor Frank T. Housh of the Erie County district attorney's office said all three suspects pleaded guilty Dec. 4 to first-degree burglary charges as jury selection was about to get under way at their trial. All three face deportation back to mainland China after completing their state prison terms.
Housh said the 23-year-old Lin, whose family operates a Buffalo area Chinese restaurant he refused to identify, confronted the three suspects as they were burglarizing his home early in the evening last June 16.
Though the three bound Lin's hands and feet before driving off in a luxury car, he managed to get himself free and called police. The three were arrested by Lancaster and Depew police on Transit Road, about three miles from the victim's home.
All the cash and jewelry was recovered the prosecutor said.
In asking for leniency on Friday, Feng told the judge that he has elderly relatives who will starve to death if he is not soon freed from custody. Ping, 24, complained to Tills that, in his opinion, other Buffalo area suspects have received light prison terms for similar crimes.
Housh said Ping got a light term of probation after his 1997 assault conviction in Brooklyn.