More Than 130 Arrested In International Narcotics And Money Laundering Investigation, Reports U.S. Attorney

Mar 31, 2004, 00:00 ET from U.S. Attorney

    WASHINGTON, March 31 /PRNewswire/ -- Deputy Attorney General James Comey,
 DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, and IRS
 Criminal Investigations Chief Nancy Jardini  announced the arrests of more
 than 130 defendants across the United States as part of an investigation
 dubbed, "Operation Candy Box."  Today's arrests mark the culmination of a two-
 year multi-jurisdictional and international Organized Crime Drug Enforcement
 Task Force case that was coordinated by the multi-agency Special Operations
 Division, targeting a significant MDMA (Ecstasy) and marijuana trafficking
 organization in both the United States and Canada.
     The arrests today include alleged ringleaders Ze Wai Wong, a Chinese
 national, and Mai Phuong Le, a Vietnamese national.  The indictments allege
 Wong was the leader of a drug distribution ring operating in 18 U.S. cities
 and Canada, while Le is accused of orchestrating the laundering of the drug
 proceeds of the drug ring.  According to indictments unsealed today, the
 charges against the more than 130 defendants center around their alleged roles
 in the various drug distribution cells, as money launderers and couriers in
 both the United States and Canada.
     "The importance of today's operation cannot be overstated," said Deputy
 Attorney General James Comey.  "Through the work of many different agencies,
 we have achieved a top to bottom decimation of a dangerous drug organization
 and a complimentary attack on the fuel that drives the organization - their
     Early this morning, authorities began arresting over 100 indicted
 defendants and executing approximately 35 search warrants in 16 U.S. cities,
 including Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Oakland, CA; San
 Jose, CA; Jacksonville, FL; New Orleans, LA; Baton Rouge, LA; Mobile, AL; New
 York, NY; Boston, MA; Atlanta, GA; Alexandria, VA; Des Moines, IA;
 Minneapolis, MN; and Salt Lake City, UT.  Canadian authorities are expected to
 execute approximately 50 arrest warrants on subjects identified in related
 investigations in the Canadian cities of Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.
     "Out of all the dangers of illegal drugs, ecstasy is of special concern
 because it is aimed at our teens and youth masquerading as colorful candy,"
 said DEA Administrator Karen Tandy.  "Today we have decimated a criminal
 organization that has poisoned our neighborhoods with up to a million Ecstasy
 tablets per month and sent as much as $5 million in proceeds abroad per month
 over five years.  But for the families and loved ones of those who would have
 taken these millions of dangerous pills in the future, the impact of this
 operation is enormous," she said.
     This two-year investigation has already produced 38 arrests and the
 seizure of 400,000 MDMA tablets, 1,170 pounds of marijuana, 6.5 pounds of
 methamphetamine, 12 handguns, and $5.9 million in U.S. currency.  Operation
 Candy Box targeted an international organization involved in ecstasy and
 Canadian marijuana (locally referred to as "BC Bud") distribution to the
 United States through command and control cells in Canada.  According to the
 court documents, the organization allegedly utilized a sophisticated money
 laundering network of money remitters and travel agencies in both the U.S. and
 Canada to launder drug proceeds.
     "Today's arrests deal a substantial blow to a criminal organization
 involved in illicit drug production, trafficking and money laundering," said
 FBI Director Robert S.  Mueller III.  "This victory is a direct result of
 enhanced collaboration with our municipal, state, federal and Canadian law
 enforcement partners, as well as our use of intelligence to systematically
 dismantle a complex, multi-jurisdictional criminal enterprise," he concluded.
     According to the U.S. and Canadian court documents, Ze Wai Wong, 46, is
 alleged to be a major distributor of Ecstasy throughout the U.S. and Canada,
 while Mai Phuong Le, 38, is accused of directing the money laundering
 operation responsible for repatriating the drug proceeds of Wong=s
 organization and of other traffickers.  According to the court papers,  U.S.
 money remitter firms, including U.S. Tours and Travel (California and Texas)
 and An Chau Services (Georgia) are alleged to have been used to launder the
 illicit proceeds.  It is alleged that the defendants were able to make large
 cash deposits into the U.S. banking system while disguising the illegal source
 of much of the money.  The proceeds were later transferred to various bank
 accounts world-wide, including in Vietnam, it is alleged.   Information
 obtained during the investigation indicated that the network was capable of
 allegedly laundering as much as $5,000,000 per month.  Warrants are being
 served on financial institutions utilized by the network in an effort to seize
 funds as well as to obtain transaction records.
     "The major goal in a financial investigation is to identify and document
 the movement of money during the course of a crime and the efforts employed to
 hide and conceal the profits," said Nancy Jardini, Chief, IRS Criminal
 Investigation.  "The link between where the money comes from, who gets it,
 when it is received, and where it is stored or deposited, can provide proof of
 criminal activity.  Finding and connecting those links is what IRS brings to
 this cooperative effort today.  However, the combined efforts of law
 enforcement agencies in an investigation of this magnitude produce a
 formidable force against narcotics trafficking and money laundering."
      Wong and Le are accused of directing the operations from Canada, and both
 were arrested in Canada this morning.  However, U.S. indictments have also
 been returned against both Wong and Le.  An indictment unsealed today in the
 Central District of California charges that Wong and Le operated a Continuing
 Criminal Enterprise (CCE).  An indictment in the Southern District of New York
 names both Wong and Le in drug trafficking and conspiracy charges, and the
 District of Massachusetts has indicted Le for similar offenses.
      Operation Candy Box revealed allegations that bulk quantities of MDMA
 tablets were being made in clandestine labs in Canada.  In August 2003, three
 fully operational tableting laboratories were discovered and dismantled by
 Canadian officials.
     Authorities also identified a large network of couriers who allegedly
 utilized vehicles with sophisticated Atraps@ to transport currency and
 Ecstasy.   In one incident, a vehicle bound for Canada via the border city of
 Burlington, Vermont was searched and $750,000 in U.S. currency was discovered
 concealed in the fuel tank.   Information developed during the investigation
 suggested that the organization was capable of distributing up to 1,000,000
 Ecstasy tablets per month in the U.S. and Canada.
     Operation Candy Box is a joint investigation involving the DEA, FBI, the
 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service
 (IRS), the Department of Justice Criminal Division, various state and local
 agencies, and in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP),
 Toronto Police Department, Ontario Provincial Police, and Ottawa Police
     The charges contained in the indictment are just allegations.  The
 defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proved guilty in a court of
     District of Massachusetts Case
     As part of Operation Candy Box, United States Attorney for the District of
 Massachusetts Michael J. Sullivan and Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in
 Charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in New England, announced
 that charged today in the District of Massachusetts were:
     1.    THI PHUONG MAI LE, a/k/a "Mai" and "Monica", age 39, of 1170 Prince
 of Wales Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada;
     2.    MINH NGOC PHAN, a/k/a "Bi", age 23, of 97 Lonsdale Street,
 Dorchester, MA;
     3.    HING BICH TIEU, age 28, of 370 Vermont Drive, Ottawa, Ontario,
 Canada; and
     4.    VAN RIL HUYNH, age 36, of 87 Willow Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
     The indictment charges all four defendants with conspiring to smuggle bulk
 cash. Additionally, PHAN and HUYNH are charged with attempted bulk cash
     Specifically, it is alleged that the defendants conspired to evade federal
 currency reporting requirements by concealing more than $10,000 in U.S.
 currency in automobiles and smuggling the money into Canada. It is alleged
 that LE, TIEU, and HUYNH directed PHAN through coded telephone conversations
 on how, when and where to smuggle cash from Massachusetts to Canada.  It is
 alleged that in one instance, on August 29, 2003, in Dorchester, PHAN
 transferred packages to HUYNH's mini-van.  It is alleged that HUYNH then drove
 the mini-van through Massachusetts, New Hampshire into Vermont where he was
 stopped by the Vermont State Police.  It is alleged at that time, the mini-
 van's gas tank contained 65 sealed packages inside of which was approximately
     PHAN was arrested early this morning at his home in Dorchester and
 appeared this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith R. Dein. PHAN is
 being held in the custody of the U.S. Marshals pending a detention hearing
 scheduled for April 6, 2004 at 10:00 A.M.  LE, TIEU and HUYNH were all
 arrested this morning in Canada.  Both the conspiracy to smuggle bulk cash and
 the attempted bulk cash smuggling charges carry a maximum sentence of 5 years
 in prison.
     The following federal, state, and local agencies participated in Operation
 Candy Box:
     Federal Agency Participation:
      Drug Enforcement Administration
      Federal Bureau of Investigation
      Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs
      Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Asset Forfeiture and Money
      Laundering Section
      U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
      Internal Revenue Service
      State Department, Bureau of Diplomatic Security
     United States Attorneys' Offices:
      Houston, TX - SDTX
      Alexandria, VA - EDVA
      Los Angeles, CA - CDCA
      Jacksonville, FL - MDFL
      New Orleans, LA - EDLA
      Baton Rouge, LA - MDLA
      Mobile, AL - SDAL
      New York, NY - SDNY
      Boston, MA - DMass
      Atlanta, GA - NDGA
      Des Moines, IA - SDIA
      Minneapolis, MN - DMinn
      Salt Lake City, UT - DUT
      San Francisco, CA - NDCA
     Canadian Agency Participation:
      Royal Canadian Mounted Police
      CFSEU (Greater Toronto Area)
      Ontario Provincial Police
      Ottawa Police Service
      Canada Border Services Agency
     State and Local Law Enforcement Participation:
      Massachusetts State Police
      Boston Police Department
      Boston Housing Police
      Milton Police Department
      Middlesex County District Attorney=s Office
      Vermont State Police
     New York:
      New York City Police Department
      Oakland Police Department
      South Alameda County Narcotics Task Force
      Union City Police Department
      Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
      California Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement
      Tustin Police Department
      Newport Beach Police Department
      Huntington Beach Police Department
      Garden Grove Police Department
      Westminster Police Department
      Jacksonville Sheriff=s Office
     North Carolina:
      Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
      Rock Hill Narcotics Task Force
      Cabarrus County Sheriff's Office
      Kenner Police Department
      Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office
      Louisiana State Police
      Mobile Police Department
      Bayou La Batre Police Department
      Baldwin County Sheriff's Office
      Minnesota Gang Strike Force
      Anoka-Hennepin Task Force
      Minnesota State Gaming Commission
      Minnesota State Patrol
      Houston Police Department
      Texas State Attorney=s Investigators Office
      Texas Department of Public Safety
      Bellevue Police Department
      Prince George=s County Police Department
      Montgomery County Police Department
      Calvert County Sheriff's Office

SOURCE U.S. Attorney