U.S. Law Enforcement Dismantles International Heroin Smuggling Ring Run Predominantly by Nigerian Women
Arrests Made in Bangkok, Pakistan, Chicago, New York, Detroit
Federal, state and local law enforcement officials today began executing search warrants and arresting members of an alleged heroin smuggling and distribution ring run predominantly by Nigerian women, dismantling a network that stretched from the opium fields of Southeast Asia to the streets of America. The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force operation, code-named "Global Sea," disrupted the Nigerian-run narcotics network and relied on the unprecedented cooperation of law enforcement in Thailand, France and Great Britain.
Since 1995, Global Sea investigators have seized more than $26 million in heroin and charged 44 individuals with drug-related offenses in the U.S. and abroad, including those made public today. Thirty one of the individuals were charged in documents made public today in Chicago and Boston. Thirty four of the defendants were arrested this morning in Bangkok, Chicago, New York, Detroit and Pakistan. Two of the defendants charged today were arrested in June in Paris. The 13 others previously charged have been arrested in connection with the Chicago case since May 1995 in Texas, New Mexico, Thailand, Switzerland, Mexico and the Netherlands.
"The message is clear--don't bring drugs into this country and sell them on our streets, especially to our children," said Attorney General Janet Reno. "If you do, we will find you, arrest you and prosecute you."
In August 1995, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Customs Service, working together in Milwaukee with the Attorney's Office, conducted an investigation involving undercover buys of one ounce of heroin. Investigators were able to identify a telephone number in Chicago used by traffickers. In February, investigators set up the first series of court-authorized wiretaps in Chicago that intercepted more than 25,000 telephone calls.
To date, approximately 55.5 kilograms of heroin have been seized in connection with the operation. Authorities said the heroin has a wholesale value of between $150,000 and $200,000 a kilogram and a retail value of more than $500,000 per kilo--a total retail value of more than $26 million. The seized heroin in this case was, on average, approximately 80 percent pure. While markets such as Boston report street level sales at that purity level, other areas report street purity levels as low as three percent.
According to allegations in the complaints filed in Chicago, the network sought to import multi-kilogram quantities of heroin from spots in Thailand and Cambodia through international transit routes used by couriers.
Couriers allegedly traveled to Thailand to pick up heroin and were joined by "controllers"--individuals who accompanied them to ensure that they reached their destination. Then they took flights through Europe to Guatemala, and, from there, made their way through Mexico and across the U.S. border. According to the complaint, they then transported the heroin from Texas to Chicago, where it was re-sold in 100 gram quantities. The cash receipts were hand-carried or wire transferred back to Southeast Asia.
"This investigation underscores the seamless continuum of international organized crime," said Thomas A. Constantine, Administrator of the DEA. "Today's arrests immobilized an important international Nigerian syndicate, based in Bangkok, which smuggled heroin through Europe and Mexico and distributed it to street gangs in the Midwest. It also demonstrates that Nigerian criminal organizations are no longer just couriers but have developed into major heroin traffickers in their own right."
Among those charged were key conspiracy figures Musiliu Balogun and Anthony Smith. Smith was arrested today in Bangkok. Musiliu Balogun remains at large. Other key figures charged in Chicago complaint were Kafayat Adedolapo Windokun and Oluwaseun Balogun. Windokun was arrested in Chicago after arriving on a flight from London earlier this week. A key figure on the distribution end, Jumoke Kafayat Majekodunmi, a Nigerian woman, was arrested today in Chicago.
Musiliu Balogun, also known as "Olopa" and its English equivalent, "The Policeman," and Smith, also known as "Baba Cambo," were identified in the Chicago complaint as the suppliers of the heroin in Thailand and Cambodia. Majekodunmi, also known as "Kafi," who owns a women's clothing boutique in Chicago that allegedly was used in the heroin trafficking business, was identified in the complaint as the key distributor of the heroin in the United States.
According to charges, Kafi spoke with co-conspirators about the loss of $150,000 in heroin proceeds from luggage in Singapore and the arrest of two British couriers. The two were arrested in Paris when authorities seized four kilograms of heroin that was destined for Kafi.
Other defendants are charged with:
Assisting Kafi in wire transferring drug money overseas,
Making calls and taking messages on her behalf and
Selling heroin to other heroin dealers and transporting purchase money to suppliers in Thailand; and,
Smuggling heroin across international borders.
Treasury Undersecretary for Enforcement Raymond Kelly said, "These drug dealers went to great lengths to smuggle drugs into this country. We went even further."
In Boston, an indictment was unsealed today charging five individuals--two Chicago-based couriers and three of their sources in Thailand--with conspiring to import heroin. All five have been arrested. The two couriers charged are Ade Odoffin, also known as Tony, and a John Doe 3, known as Kevin Reed. The Thailand sources charged are Albertine Kilumdu, also known as Tina, John Doe 1, known as Ellis Ola Giwa, and John Doe 2.
This is the third wave of prosecutions in Boston of a heroin distribution organization as a whole--from the sources of the heroin to the couriers who imported the narcotics.
This prosecution is significant because it marks an unprecedented level of international law enforcement cooperation. For the first time ever, in the Boston case, Royal Thai Police allowed U.S. law enforcement authorities to transport drugs out of Thailand to assist an ongoing international investigation.
In the Boston case, an undercover DEA agent posed as an international courier for the Laverne Cotton-Diaby organization- the Boston-based leader of the conspiracy. Cotton-Diaby's Thailand-based sources provided the undercover agent with about five kilograms of heroin for transport to the United States. The heroin was transported through secure law enforcement channels to Boston. At the direction of Cotton-Diaby's Thailand sources, the heroin was delivered to a courier who is associated with the Chicago-based Nigerian heroin organization. Ade Odoffin delivered $82,000 to an undercover DEA agent for the heroin, which was recovered by law enforcement after the exchange."
This is a sterling example of drug law enforcement work at its best," said George Weise, Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service. "I applaud the work of the many men and women whose skill and dedication have lead to this unprecedented effort."
To date, 21 individuals have been charged in the Boston prosecution, including two who were employed as Boston police officers during the period of the heroin importing conspiracy.
Attorney General Reno hailed the coordinated efforts by the U.S. Attorney's Offices in Chicago and Boston, the Department's Criminal Division, the DEA, the FBI, the U.S. Customs Service, the INS, the Secret Service, and at least 10 state and local police agencies in the Chicago, Boston and Milwaukee areas.
Reno also praised the Royal Thai Police/Nana Drug Enforcement Unit and law enforcement authorities in England, France, the Netherlands, and Singapore for their efforts. She also commended prosecutors in U.S. Attorneys offices in: the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the Southern District of Texas, the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, the Eastern District of Michigan, the District of New Mexico, and the District of Minnesota.
The indictment and complaints contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.