Twenty-two Charged in Multi-Million
DEC 17--Twenty-two people have now been charged in relation to a multi-million dollar marijuana smuggling and money laundering criminal enterprise. The arrests are part of a year-long investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into a prolific international marijuana trafficking organization based in the Western District of Washington. Over the last ten days, investigators seized $3.4 million, 400 pounds of marijuana, and a dozen firearms. This brings the total seizures to date related to this ring to $5.2 million in currency and 3400 pounds of marijuana. According to charging papers this marijuana criminal enterprise is spearheaded by LONG V. NGUYEN (38) of Tacoma, and NGHIA H. PHAM (36) of Auburn, who, together, used numerous couriers or runners to transport and distribute multi-pound quantities of marijuana to customers located within and outside the State of Washington. The 22 people arrested worked at various levels throughout the criminal enterprise.
"This investigation resulted in the dismantlement of a drug trafficking supply network in the Pacific Northwest. DEA also attacked the financial infrastructure and seized in excess of 5 million dollars cash from this marijuana trafficking organization,” said Rodney C. Benson, Special Agent In Charge of DEA in Seattle. “This law enforcement accomplishment is a direct reflection of the coalition established by DEA with state, local and federal partners."
Court documents reveal that through surveillance at the border and recordings of telephone conversations, investigators discovered the marijuana is brought south from Canada hidden in secret compartments in commercial tractor trailer rigs. Money couriers then smuggled the proceeds from the sale of the marijuana back across the border into Canada. This criminal organization is believed to have distributed as much as 300-500 pounds of marijuana each week to locations as far away as California and the Eastern United States. The exchanges of multi-pound quantities of marijuana for cash took place at a number of public locations ranging from stores, hotels, restaurants, and even outside a public library. In one instance, agents seized more than $1.4 million in currency that was destined to be concealed in a storage locker in Kirkland, Washington.
According to the charging documents, the conspirators laundered some of the proceeds from the drug trafficking through the purchase of homes and other assets in the Seattle area. The government is moving to forfeit those assets as part of the ‘proceeds of crime’ provision of federal law.
“The cross-border smuggling of ‘BC Bud’ generates hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for the criminal organizations involved,” said Mike McCool, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of ICE Investigations in Seattle. “One of the keys to dismantling these operations is to follow the money trail because greed is what fuels this dangerous trade. That is what our agents did here, and it’s what we’ll continue to do until we put these criminal organizations out of business.”
The charges filed are allegations that have not yet been proven at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. Conspiracy to import and distribute more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison to a maximum of life in prison. Conspiracy to engage in money laundering is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
DEA and ICE are continuing their investigation. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, Tacoma Police, Puyallup Police, Bonney Lake Police, Seattle Police Department, King County Sheriff’s Office, Renton Police Department, the Eastside Narcotics Task Force, the Washington State Patrol, and Washington State Department of Corrections assisted with the investigation and seizures. The case was designated and specially funded as an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ye-Ting Woo and Susan Roe. Ms. Woo and Ms. Roe are members of the United States Attorney's Criminal Enterprises Unit. Created in 2002, the Unit consists of eight experienced federal prosecutors, and is designed to identify, investigate, and prosecute large organized criminal groups in the Pacific Northwest. Emphasis is placed on multi-agency participation, extensive financial investigations, use of electronic surveillance, and close coordination with other U.S. Attorney’s Offices conducting similar investigations.