News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 16, 2007
Contact: Joanna Zoltay
Number: 312-886-2597

Thai Nationals Extradited to Face Drug Conspiracy Charges in U.S.

FEB 16 -- (Hammond, IN) Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chicago Field Division Gary G. Olenkiewicz along with the United States Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Indiana announced today that two citizens of Thailand, Suwanee Sriprasarn and Paisit Bencharit, were extradited from Thailand to the Northern District of Indiana to answer charges for their alleged involvement in an international heroin importation conspiracy.

Sriprasarn, Bencharit and one other, Mitchell Blake, an Australian citizen, were indicted in May 2002. The indictment alleges that these individuals conspired with an unnamed individual in the Northern District of Indiana to import heroin from Thailand directly to northwest Indiana.

Based on this indictment, the United States requested the provisional arrest of Sriprasarn and Bencharit. Royal Thai Immigration officials arrested Sriprasarn at the Thailand/Cambodia border on September 29, 2005 and arrested Bencharit in Bangkok, Thailand on October 10, 2005. They remained in Thailand's custody until they were surrendered to the United States Marshal earlier this week. The third defendant, Mitchell Blake, was, at the time of indictment, serving a sentence in Thailand and remains in Thai custody.

“The success of this international investigation is the result of cooperative teamwork between the DEA, Lake County Combined Task Force, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Thai authorities,” stated Gary G. Olenkiewicz, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Chicago Field Division which covers Indiana. “This long term investigation effectively dismantled an international heroin drug trafficking organization with ties to Northwest Indiana and prevented approximately 1,000,000 dosage units from reaching the street.”

The indictment and the subsequent extradition were the result of an extensive undercover investigation directed by the Drug Enforcement Administration - Merrillville Office and the Lake County Combined Task Force, a unit of the Lake County HIDTA. Participating law enforcement agencies were the Dyer Police Department, the East Chicago Police Department, the Gary Police Department, the Griffith Police Department, the Hammond Police Department, the Hobart Police Department, the Lake County Sheriff's Department, the Merrillville Police Department, the Munster Police Department and the Schererville Police Department. Assisting overseas were the Royal Thai Police-Nana Drug Enforcement and the Bangkok Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

A total of 1.25 kilograms of high purity South East Asian heroin was seized as a result of the long term investigation. The estimated street value of the seized heroin was in excess of $1 million dollars with a purity level of nearly 90%.

Sriprasarn and Bencharit had their initial appearance today before a United States Magistrate Judge in Hammond. They will remain in the custody of the United States Marshal. A trial date has not yet been set.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Diane L. Berkowitz. The specific sentence to be imposed upon conviction in each case will be determined by the judge after a consideration of federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The United States Attorney’s Office emphasized that an Indictment is merely an allegation and that all persons charged are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.