Johnny Lee was the son of a peasant farmer in Yunxiao County in the province of Fujian, China. Brett Sinclair was a hardworking, white-collar professional living in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Johnny was uneducated and poor but worked hard and made a decent living by Yunxiao's standards, even if the industry he worked in was a bit shady. Brett had an excellent education, a great job and made plenty of money, but he was known as a cheapskate by his friends. He tried to save a few bucks wherever he could.
These two 25-year-olds lived in different worlds, but they both had a secret, and, unbeknownst to them, they also had a connection. The twosome was linked together at opposite ends of a complex network of people, companies and technology involved in the counterfeit cigarette trade. Simply put, Johnny made counterfeit cigarettes and Brett bought them. But the larger story was a far more complicated tale of a global black-market industry that had exploded through the use of the Internet.
Johnny Lee's secret was that he went to work every day in an illegal operation inside a cave hidden by the thick forests in the Yunxiao countryside. Inside that cave was a fully operational cigarette-manufacturing facility that cranked out counterfeit cigarettes by the millions each year. These cigarettes were produced with well-known U.S. and European cigarette labels, but they were 100-percent counterfeit. Even though producing counterfeit cigarettes was illegal ...