Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Chris for that kind introduction; for your leadership here in this office, and for your 15 years of service to the Department of Justice. You’ve been a prosecutor for two decades—almost as long as your Dad was a prosecutor. You have a lot to be proud of.
I am so pleased to be with you today as we make a significant law enforcement announcement regarding the current opioid crisis.
But before I do that, I want to say thank you.
I have visited more than 30 U.S. Attorney’s Offices since I became Attorney General, and I’m always inspired to meet with the attorneys, investigators, and officers who are in the trenches every day making us safer.
And so I want to thank Kurt Thielhorn of ATF, Ken Solek and Jeff Harford of DEA, Daniel Genck, Pete Klokstad , and Bob Perry of the FBI, Jason Molina, Michael Mack, and Brad Bench of Homeland Security Investigations, Joseph Scargill and Kate Nichols of our Postal Inspectors, and Jeremy Shivers with the IRS. Thank you for your service.
And while we are inexpressibly proud of our fabulous federal officers, we also understand and appreciate the fact that 85 percent of the law enforcement officers in this country serve at the state and local levels.
That’s why I want to give a special thanks to all of the state and local law enforcement officers who are here as well: Attorney General Stenehjem, Chief David Todd, Chief Scott Edinger, Chief Jason Zeigler, Chief David Ebinger, Chief Heith Janke, Deputy Director Lonnie Grabowska of the North Dakota Bureau of Investigations, and Sheriff Chad Kaiser.
It is an honor to be with you all.
I also want to thank everyone for the briefing on how the drug crisis is affecting this state.
There can be no doubt that this is the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Approximately 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2016 – the highest drug death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history.
That’s more than the population of Grand Forks—dead in one year from drug overdoses.
Preliminary data show another—but what appears to be a smaller—increase for 2017. Amazingly, for Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death. That’s why President Trump has declared this a national health emergency. This cannot continue.
This epidemic is being driven primarily by opioids – prescription painkillers or heroin. However, the number one killer opioid is fentanyl. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl killed 20,000 Americans in 2016.
Most fentanyl doesn’t come from here. The vast majority is made in China and then shipped here either through the mail or brought across our porous Southern border.
And today, as a result of the work here we are announcing what I believe is a significant enforcement action designed to stop this flow of fentanyl out of China. This flow is resulting in too many deaths, including here in North Dakota.
North Dakota has taken important steps at the state level, including the first year-round state-wide prescription drug disposal program take back in 2009. Since them, 10 tons of unused medications have been collected and destroyed thanks to this program.
Tomorrow the DEA will hold its semiannual National Drug Takeback Day, which is an opportunity for people to dispose of unwanted prescription drugs with no questions asked. The last two of these Takeback days took a combined 900 tons of drugs off of our streets. I have no doubt that saved lives and kept these drugs from getting into the wrong hands.
The stakes are high. We are not just talking about numbers. We are talking about moms, dads, daughters, spouses, friends, and neighbors.
But we cannot, we will not accept the status quo. This is not business as usual.
Ending the drug crisis is a top priority for the Trump administration. And we at the Department of Justice will be relentless and fight this epidemic every step of the way.
In October, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic to be a national public health emergency. Earlier this week, he extended that declaration for another 90 days.
President Trump wants to improve our prevention efforts by launching a national awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid abuse. He has set the ambitious goal of reducing opioid prescriptions in America by one-third in three years. And he is a strong supporter of our law enforcement efforts.
That’s why this Department is taking aggressive steps to prosecute those who would profit off of addiction with a particular focus on fentanyl. Evidence of this focus is that we have tripled fentanyl prosecutions from 2016 to 2017.
In October, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein announced the first-ever indictments of Chinese nationals for fentanyl trafficking in the United States.
One of those cases began with the tragic overdose death of a teenager in Grand Forks, North Dakota in January 2015. This office opened an investigation and traced the source of the fentanyl all the way back to China.
Today, with Chris, I am announcing the unsealing of two indictments charging 10 additional defendants—including four Chinese nationals. In total, 32 defendants have been charged as part of this law enforcement operation.
According to the indictments, over five years, the conspirators trafficked large and dangerous quantities of fentanyl in the United States and Canada.
The defendants allegedly sold fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in 11 states from coast to coast—from Oregon to Ohio to Florida.
This was an elaborate and sophisticated conspiracy. They used the internet, about 30 different aliases, cryptocurrency, off-shore accounts, encrypted communications, and they allegedly laundered funds internationally through third parties.
They and their co-conspirators allegedly shipped fentanyl and fentanyl analogues from China through the mail—and it killed people in North Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, and Grand Forks.
All five of the Chinese nationals indicted in this case are fugitives. Three of their co-conspirators have been arrested in three different states.
I want to thank everyone here who helped make these indictments possible: Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Kerin, Trial Attorneys Adrienne Rose and Leonard LeVine, DEA Special Agent Michael Buemi, HSI Special Agents Jeremy Grube and Guy Gino, Steve Gilpin of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations, and Jacques Theberge of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Dozens more law officers across the United States and Canada have played a role, too. And U.S. Attorney Myers, I know you’ve been in the trenches on this case since day one. Great work. Great Canadian support.
Importantly I am also announcing today that Secretary Mnuchin and the Treasury Department has sanctioned Jian Zhang—the alleged leader of the conspiracy—as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Kingpin Act. Treasury also issued sanctions on four other Chinese nationals who allegedly facilitated the sale of fentanyl financially. Treasury has also sanctioned the Chinese biotechnology company owned by Jian Zhang. Now any assets in which they have an interest either in the United States or in the possession of an American must be blocked and reported to the Treasury Department. This is the first time that Treasury has designated an alleged fentanyl trafficker for sanctions.
I appreciate that the Chinese government has provided assistance to our law enforcement efforts on this case. We strive for a high level of cooperation. I hope that cooperation will grow in the future. The fact is that we must have more help, and as trading partners, we have a right to expect it.
One important way that China can continue to help is by scheduling all fentanyl analogues. President Trump visited China in November and spoke to President Xi about fentanyl. I spoke with the Chinese Minister of Public Security about this last year. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein met with Chinese leaders about fentanyl scheduling in September.
In February, China took new steps to restrict fentanyl precursors that had been legal at the time. I believe that is good for the people of China and the people of this country alike.
But—as with everything—there is room for improvement, such as the Mutual Lateral Assistance Treaties, or MLAT, process as it relates to bank records. These are vitally important to our investigative efforts. We need greater cooperation on this. And so I look forward to continuing to work with China on this and other important matters.
Today’s announcement builds on the historic new efforts we’ve been making over the past year.
We are taking drugs off of the streets—and that saves lives. But we have to acknowledge that we still have a lot more work to do.
Our mission is difficult—but together, we can break the vicious cycle of drug abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths that have devastated countless American families. We can make a difference.
And so I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation and profound thanks to all the women and men of law enforcement – federal, state, local, and tribal – as well as their families, for sacrificing so much and putting your lives on the line every day so that the rest of us may enjoy the safety and security you provide.
The work that you do is essential. I believe it. The Department of Justice believes it. And President Trump believes it.
You can be certain about this: we have your back and you have our thanks.