Eight members of an alleged international heroin ring have been charged and seven have been arrested after an investigation conducted by law enforcement in the United States and Ghana, Drug Enforcement Administration officials said Thursday.
The ring allegedly moved $250,000 through Dulles International Airport from September 2010 to February 2011, according to the unsealed indictment.
The eight charged represent not only the couriers but also the “command and control” of the group, said Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The indictment lists Edward MaCauley (aka Cudjoe Opoku), 61, of Ghana as the leader of the group.
Matilda Antwi, 29, of Alexandria, Va., attempted to smuggle 1.2 kilograms of heroin through the Northern Virginia airport on Sept. 4, 2010, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Of the eight charged, only seven have been apprehended. The DEA declined to acknowledge which of the eight was not in custody. Four are in custody in Ghana and will be returned to the United States to face charges.
The others charged were Nuru (unknown last name); Frank Ehiobe; Fred Oppong Brobbey; William Andoh, of the Bronx, N.Y.; Theophilus Akwei, 35, of Germantown, Md.; and Joseph Duodo, 54, of Greenbelt, Md.
Each was charged with conspiracy to import heroin; other charges include distribution for the purpose of unlawful importation of heroin and possession with intent to distribute heroin, according to the indictment. Each of the charges in the indictment carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, if convicted.
Speaking at a press conference in the District, MacBride said the group smuggled heroin on at least three separate commercial airline flights into Dulles. The indictment says Antwi was a courier for the organization, and she was paid to bring about 1.2 kilograms of heroin into the United States on a United Airlines flight in September 2010. MacBride said the smugglers used special bags hidden in the liner of their suitcases to sneak the drugs past Customs.
They distributed heroin along the East Coast, said Ava Cooper-Davis, the DEA’s special agent in charge for the Washington Division.
The organization pays couriers up to $15,000 to transport the heroin, MacBride said.
MacBride said the investigation into this alleged ring, which he believes to be no older than one year old, is ongoing and that more charges are possible. Arlington County Police assisted in the investigation.
DEA officials believe that this is an example of the growing trafficking industry in West Africa.
Both MacBride and Cooper-Davis stressed the importance of inter-agency and international cooperation in the takedown of the alleged smuggling ring.
“This case highlights the cooperative efforts of U.S. law enforcement working with our global partners to dismantle international drug trafficking organizations impacting the United States,” Cooper-Davis said. “Let this be a message to other who would engage in trafficking drugs into the United States, you must know that there are no boundaries that can protect you from the long arm of the U.S. justice system. There is no ‘safe haven’ from your crimes.”
A release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office described another case in which Yvonne Ansah Owusu, 26, of Alexandria, Va., was arrested May 29 after U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers allegedly discovered 3.3 kilograms of heroin hidden within the lining of her luggage as she departed a flight from Accra, Ghana, to Dulles.
According to court records, Owusu allegedly told law enforcement that she was promised $15,000 to carry a suitcase with heroin from Ghana to the United States. She is scheduled for a jury trial on Aug. 23, 2011, and also faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, if convicted.
William Andoh is charged with distributing heroin smuggled from Ghana in Baltimore and in New York, according to court papers.
Akwei and Duodo allegedly picked up heroin shipments from couriers in February, court documents said
A man named Nuru, whose last name is unknown, and Ehiobe are accused of working with Macauley to find couriers, court documents said.
U.S. officials worked with the Ghana police and the Ghanaian Narcotics Control Board during the investigation, said Ava Cooper-Davis, special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington division.