Benjamin Ton, a onetime copy-machine repairman who became head of a $50 million drug ring in the Philadelphia area, was sentenced Wednesday to 171/2 years in federal prison.

Ton, 36, was facing a possible life sentence, but won leniency because he had been cooperating with authorities since shortly after his arrest in November 2004.

His lawyer, Elliot M. Cohen, said Ton "cooperated very extensively on a lot of different projects with the government," and his guilty plea had a "domino effect" on many other defendants who later pleaded guilty.

U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond granted the reduced sentence.

"Ton provided a huge volume of useful information to the government," Assistant U.S. Attorney David E. Fritchey wrote in the prosecution's sentencing memo, which asked for a term of less than the 20-year mandatory minimum.

"He listened to many wiretapped conversations between himself and Canadian suppliers, and between himself and his customer coconspirators," Fritchey wrote.

"He identified the speakers for DEA by voice and by photograph, and explained the conversations, many of which were in Vietnamese, including codes he used when engaging in drug-related conversations," Fritchey wrote.

Ton also assisted in identifying "Fat Bobby," a Vietnamese gang member who committed a murder in Virginia and fled to Canada, Fritchey wrote. "Fat Bobby" was not identified in Fritchey's sentencing memo, but he was returned to Virginia, tried, and convicted.

Cohen said that Ton had been held without bail since his arrest, but "he gets credit for every day he's done," so Ton will be released in about 12 years, if not sooner.

Ton's ex-wife, Lena Loam Le, has served a two-year sentence for her role in the operation and was in court along with other family members to support Ton, Cohen said.

In a forfeiture order, prosecutors made claim to $53.4 million in drug trafficking proceeds, believed to be the extent of Ton's operation from 2002 to 2004.

The actual money seized upon Ton's arrest was far less. He had $1,416 at his Sicklerville home. Nearly $16,000 was taken from a business checking account, and $15,000 in cash was found at a location in Philadelphia.

Authorities also seized a $7,000 check, an item of jewelry, and two guns. Probably the most valuable possession seized was his home.

When the drug ring was broken, federal agents intercepted a shipment of 55,000 tablets of ecstasy with a street value of $1.65 million.

Ton got into drug trafficking in 2002 when a Vietnamese friend from Canada asked him to help find buyers in Philadelphia for 100 pounds of marijuana.

He eventually smuggled nearly 10 tons of high-grade marijuana and 300,000 ecstasy pills from Canada to the Philadelphia area.

The unemployed repairman started attracting attention when he moved from a modest rowhouse in Delaware County to an upscale home in New Jersey, complete with a Lexus, a BMW, and a Corvette in the driveway.

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or