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Press Release

Man Charged With Conspiracy To Smuggle Heroin From Nigeria

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. – A Nigerian national was arrested for his role in a conspiracy to use ingested pellets to smuggle heroin from Nigeria into the United States, Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick announced today.

Michael Awotunde, 52, of Lagos, Nigeria, is charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to import 100 grams or more of heroin.

Awotunde was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Nov. 3, 2017. He appeared this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III in Newark federal court and was detained.

According to the complaint:

The FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) have been investigating a drug trafficking organization operating in Nigeria, New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere. During that investigation, law enforcement learned that the drug trafficking organization employed individuals to ingest heroin pellets and fly to the United States to deliver the drugs to other members of the organization.

On Jan. 26, 2017, one such courier, Ramota Okuleye, 64, also of Lagos, traveled from Nigeria to the United States after ingesting heroin for delivery to a confidential source (CS-1). On Jan. 27, 2017, Okuleye arrived in Newark and provided CS-1 with approximately 68 heroin pellets totaling 979 grams of heroin.

During their conversations, Okuleye explained that she primarily worked for Awotunde, but was transporting drugs for a different person. She told CS-1 to reach out to Awotunde for future transactions and provided CS-1 with a telephone number for Awotunde.

On Feb. 8, 2017, CS-1 spoke with Awotunde and the two agreed to work together in the future. On Sept. 8, 2017, Awotunde agreed to sell CS-1 heroin.

On Oct. 19, 2017, Okuleye returned to the United States after ingesting approximately 51 pellets that tested positive for heroin. She was arrested in October 2017 and charged by federal criminal complaint. Afterwards, Awotunde reached out to CS-1 and expressed concern over her arrest.

Awotunde faces a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison, a maximum potential penalty of 40 years in prison, and a $5 million fine.

The charges and allegations against Awotunde and Okuleye are merely accusations, and both defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Newark Field Office, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Debra Parker; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), under the direction of Acting Director of Field Operations Leon Hayward, New York Field Office, with the investigation. 

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Williams of the U.S. Attorney’s Office OCDETF/Narcotics Unit in Newark.

Defense counsel: Thomas F.X. Dunn Esq., Glen Rock, New Jersey.

Updated November 6, 2017

Press Release Number: 17-417