Charges Against Six for Participating in International Opium Smuggling Ring
MAR 09 - (New York) -- Wilbert L. Plummer, the Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Janice K. Fedarcyk, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Raymond W. Kelly, the Police Commissioner of the City of New York (NYPD), announced charges yesterday against six individuals involved in an international ring that smuggled opium into the United States by hiding it in Persian rugs. The charged defendants participated in various facets of the opium smuggling operation, including conspiring to distribute the opium within the United States.
Defendants Ali Hamedi, Hossein Aminnia, and Mehrdad Samoukian were arrested yesterday morning. Hamedi was presented in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia yesterday afternoon. Aminnia and Samoukian were presented in federal court in the District of Maryland and the Southern District of New York, later that afternoon. The remaining defendants – Djavad Mohammadi Yaghini, Mahmoud Mowla, and Hamid Ketabchi – were arrested in January 2012.
The following allegations are based on the complaints and indictments filed in Manhattan federal court:
The defendants participated in a conspiracy in which Iranian rug merchants imported opium from Iran to the United States that was hidden in Persian rugs. The opium was obtained from nomads residing in the border region between Iran and Afghanistan. In Iran, the opium was hidden in Persian rugs. The rugs were then driven from Mashad, Iran, to Hamburg, Germany. From Germany, the rugs were shipped to New York, New York. Once in New York, the opium was removed from the rugs and was distributed to other cities across the United States, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
All of the defendants are charged with conspiring to distribute opium within the United States and face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. A chart containing the residence information and the ages of each defendant is attached to this release.
Acting DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Wilbert L. Plummer stated: “Opium is not a drug of the past and is still a clear and present danger to our communities. DEA assisted in this investigation that spanned the globe from cities in the United States to Afghanistan. These arrests send a message to those who profit off the sale of poison that law enforcement is cooperating and pooling our resources to keep our communities free from illegal drugs and the violence associated.”
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “As charged, the defendants participated in an opium smuggling ring that extended across three continents and used exotic carpets as drug smuggling containers. Opium, like other narcotics, poses a serious threat to the health and safety of our citizens when used illegally. These arrests underscore this Office’s commitment to working with all of our law enforcement partners to stop the illegal importation of opium into the U.S. and to keep it off our streets.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk stated: “Opium is not a bygone relic of the Victorian era. It remains a dangerous and highly addictive drug, and a controlled substance. Today’s arrests are a significant step in an international effort to stem the flow of opium.”
NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly stated: “Drugs smuggled into the country in Persian rugs is unique, but the addiction that results from these illegal drugs is the same regardless of how they get here. I commend the federal agents, NYPD detectives and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's office for today's arrests.”
Mr. Bharara praised the efforts of the FBI, the DEA, and the NYPD; and thanked the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations for its assistance. He also thanked the Hamburg, Germany, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Hamburg Landeskriminalamt, which conducted a parallel investigation resulting in the execution of three search warrants yesterday; and thanked the German Bundeskriminalamt, which coordinated the exchange of information between the FBI and Hamburg authorities. Mr. Bharara said the investigation is continuing.
The investigation is being conducted by the Organized Crime Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Peter Skinner is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaints and Indictments are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.