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Notorious smuggler Sister Ping mourned in Chinatown

Government investigators said Cheng Chui Ping, aka Sister

Government investigators said Cheng Chui Ping, aka Sister Ping, and her husband portrayed themselves as clothing shop owners, but their main business was smuggling Chinese immigrants into the United States.

A procession of 80 cars and two buses -- something not seen in a Chinatown funeral since the 1994 death of tong boss Benny Ong -- took Sister Ping, one of the city's most notorious human smugglers, to her grave in upstate New York yesterday.

Ping, whose full name was Cheng Chui Ping, died last month at the age of 65 in a federal prison hospital in Texas. Imprisoned since her June 2005 conviction on hostage taking in connection with immigrant smuggling, conspiracy and other charges, Ping died of pancreatic cancer while serving a 35-year sentence.

Her wake and funeral at the Boe Fook Funeral Home on Canal Street in Manhattan attracted hundreds of mourners, as well as the curious. After a viewing and Buddhist prayer service on Thursday night, Ping's body was taken Friday to Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla.

In Chinatown, Ping was a legendary figure and something of a paradox. Though never convicted of involvement in the June 1993 voyage of the smuggling ship Golden Venture, which ran aground off Queens killing at least six Chinese immigrants, investigators said she was behind the syndicate that put the operation together. Despite such notoriety, many Chinese from Fujian province considered her a hero because she helped immigrants surreptitiously enter the United States from her currency business on East Broadway.

"A lot of people respected her," said Kenneth Cheng, advisory chairman of the Fukien Benevolent Association of America. She would donate money to people who needed assistance, he said. "That is why people really respected her and appreciated her."

After the October slayings of a Chinese mother and her four children in Brooklyn, Ping donated through intermediaries about $3,000 to help the family, Cheng said.

But Edward Chiu, head of the Lin Sing Association, said though many viewed Ping as a "Robin Hood" figure, they seemed to forget she was in some ways responsible for the death of many immigrants who were smuggled into America, and thus a criminal under the nation's laws.

After Ping's procession left the funeral home, workers swept up a litter of flowers dropped by mourners.

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