Image: Xie Caiping
Str  /  AFP - Getty Images
Xie Caiping, left, is led from courthouse in southwest China after the 46-year-old is sentenced to serve 18 years in prison on bribery and illegal gambling charges on Tuesday.
updated 11/3/2009 2:43:59 PM ET 2009-11-03T19:43:59

Dubbed the "godmother" of the Chinese underworld, she was notorious for her toughness and a lavish lifestyle that reportedly included luxury villas and a stable of 16 young lovers.

Her criminal reign ended Tuesday when Xie Caiping, 46, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for running illegal casinos and bribing government officials. Her trial was one of a series of gang prosecutions in the southwestern city of Chongqing that have featured lurid testimony about sex, corruption and the violent underworld.

Xie is the only female gang boss to be tried as part of a monthslong crackdown on local gangs, known as "black societies," in the sprawling southwestern megacity of 30 million. The trials have exposed the tangled web of links between government officials and police officers who sought to provide cover for the crime syndicates.

Besides her luxury homes, Xie reportedly enjoyed her own Mercedes-Benz and "retained 16 young men for personal entertainment," local media reported. On Tuesday, her driver Luo Xuan, 29, who was also her lover, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role.

Wearing an inmate-assigned vest of bright orange, the short-haired and plain-faced Xie was grim and emotionless as she was led out of the No. 5 Intermediate People's Court after the sentencing.

Family ties to police
Xie had been protected for years because she was the sister-in-law of the city's long-serving deputy police chief, Wen Qiang, who was detained for investigation by the ruling Communist Party in August. Wen, who is regarded as being at the heart of an extensive network of protection of local gangs for over a decade, will go on trial later in the month.

Xie once absconded with a suitcase full of money after being tipped off by Wen before a police raid on one of her gambling dens, according to a local newspaper. Last year, she hired gang members to beat an undercover police officer unconscious, put him in a bag and dump him in the countryside.

During the trial, Xie's profanity-laced testimony drew a rebuke from the judge. Victims who had been terrorized by the gangs waited patiently for Tuesday's sentencing.

Xie was convicted of "organizing and leading a criminal organization, running gambling dens, illegal imprisonment, harboring people taking illegal narcotics and giving bribes to officials," the official Xinhua News Agency reported. She was also fined $150,000.

Chen Yanling, a Chongqing resident who says she was beaten by thugs after refusing a corrupt policeman's request to turn her teahouse into a casino, said she and other victims waited outside the court for the verdict. But they were angered by Xie's sentencing, with some people refusing to leave until police escorted them away.

"We didn't believe our ears when we first heard it's just 18 years. How many crimes has she committed?" Chen said.

Extensive criminal network
The crackdown in Chongqing has netted some 1,500 suspects — gangsters, prominent businessmen and 14 high-ranking officials. Six gang members in the city have already been sentenced to death for crimes including murder and blackmail.

On Tuesday, 20 others, including officials who offered protection to gang members, were sentenced to between one and 13 years in prison, according to a notice on the Chongqing court Web site.

The court notice said Xie's gang "severely broke the normal order of society," and illegally detained others and allowed loan sharking at the casinos. The casino took a cut of the profits won by gamblers, the notice said. It said casino bosses hired stand-ins to take the blame when there was a crackdown and paid bribes to judicial officials.

Since September 2004, it said, Xie's gang had made $293,000 in illegal earnings by running more than 10 gambling dens.

More on: China

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