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Joint Investigation Leads to Seizure of More Than 30 Million Pseudoephedrine Tablets, Charges Against Three South Korean Nationals, And Closure of Internet Pharmacy Business in South Korea

November 14, 2008

CRAIG NELSON, 49, of Tenino, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to five years in prison and three years of supervised release, and a $17,500 fine for unlawfully distributing pseudoephedrine, a controlled chemical precursor used in the clandestine manufacturing of methamphetamine. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton said, “Anyone who is familiar with methamphetamine knows it is a poison that tears people and families apart.”

According to records filed in the case, during November 2007, NELSON, a retired airline pilot, conceived of a plan to make money by supplying pseudoephedrine to those criminally involved in the manufacturing of methamphetamine in southern Washington. Pseudoephedrine is a regulated chemical used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine at clandestine laboratories. It is a federal felony offense to possess or distribute pseudoephedrine, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the chemical will be used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Nelson contacted a South Korea pharmacy via the internet named “OpaTrade” and arranged to purchase 24 commercial-grade sized jars of pseudoephedrine, each jar containing 4,300 pseudoephedrine pills, in return for $6,000. It was NELSON’s intent in receiving the chemical to make the chemical available to methamphetamine cooks in southern Washington, to be used to manufacture methamphetamine. It is estimated that the quantity of pseudoephedrine ordered by NELSON would have yielded several kilograms of methamphetamine. The shipment arrived from South Korea via a South Korean shipping company, “Il Shin Air Express Company,” which had improperly invoiced the contents of the shipment in order to avoid detection by U.S. border authorities.

After receiving the shipment, NELSON met with others in southern Washington, including Travis Thomas, 41, of Camas, Washington, Leo Bunker, 48 of Washougal, Washington, and Jodie Dolan, 34, of Auburn, Washington, and distributed jars of pseudoephedrine to them, which they in turn were to supply to methamphetamine cooks in the area. Some of those jars were used to illicitly manufacture methamphetamine. Other jars ended up being seized by law enforcement in Washougal, Tenino, and in Camas, Washington. During December, 2007, NELSON negotiated to sell ten jars of pseudoephedrine to an undercover officer with the Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force and was arrested. Thirteen remaining jars of pseudoephedrine were recovered from a wooded area near NELSON’s residence in Tenino where they were hidden. Methamphetamine formulas were recovered from NELSON’s residence, and documents were recovered detailing NELSON’s criminal interactions with “OpaTrade”.

A continuing federal criminal investigation ensued. This investigation involved the combined efforts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and Seoul, South Korea, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the South Korea National Police. Through this investigation, law enforcement was able to identify the business entity operating as “OpaTrade” and the shipping company operating as “Il Shin Air Express Company” in Seoul, South Korea. On August 11, 2008, a search warrant was executed at “OpaTrade” resulting in the seizure by South Korean authorities of 7,104 unopened commercial-grade sized jars of pseudoephedrine. “OpaTrade” was shut down and its computers and business equipment were seized. One officer of “OpaTrade,” and two officers of “Il Shin Air Express Company” have been indicted by South Korean authorities for violating South Korean export laws and are awaiting trial.

It is believed that all 7,104 of these jars were intended for sale to U.S. residents unlawfully over the internet. Had law enforcement not managed to identify “OpaTrade” and seize the remaining jars of pseudoephedrine, it is estimated that more than 30 million pseudoephedrine pills would have been unlawfully imported into the United States and used to manufacture more than 3,000 pounds (1,775 kilograms) of methamphetamine, according to DEA estimates.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement works closely with law enforcement partners around the globe to dismantle lucrative, drug smuggling networks,” said Leigh Winchell, Special Agent in Charge of ICE’s Office of Investigations in Seattle. “ICE will continue to aggressively investigate this type of criminal activity to prevent the sale of illicit drugs in the United States,” said Special Agent Winchell.

The remaining Washington-based conspirators, Dolan, Bunker, and Thomas, have pleaded guilty in federal district court. Dolan was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment. Bunker and Thomas are awaiting sentencing.

This case is part of a continuing Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation focused upon the unlawful trafficking in pharmaceutical controlled chemicals and substances. The case was investigated by the Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration, and South Korea National Police.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ronald J. Friedman.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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