DEA Dismantles International Ecstasy Trafficking Groups
NOV 17-- (Washington, D.C.)- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Karen P. Tandy today announced the culmination of Operation Sweet Tooth, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation that targeted international Ecstasy and marijuana trafficking rings whose drug smuggling and money laundering operations ranged from the back alleys of the Far East to the neighborhood streets of Canada and the United States. Operation Sweet Tooth was comprised of DEA-led investigations in 12 separate U.S. judicial districts and resulted in the arrest of 291 individuals and the execution of 98 search warrants both in the United States and Canada. The seizures totaled 931,300 MDMA tablets, 1,777 pounds of marijuana, and $ 7.75 million in U.S. assets.
DEA agents, along with partners from international, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies conducted an extensive 24-month investigation which resulted in the dismantlement of two major drug transportation rings with ties to 61 separate domestic investigations. These arrests marked the conclusion of an international and multi-jurisdictional operation that was coordinated by DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD).
Operation Sweet Tooth follows DEA’s successful Operation Candy Box, a major Ecstasy investigation that culminated in the spring of 2004. Operation Candy Box was responsible for dismantling an international Ecstasy ring that imported MDMA tablets into Canada for distribution into the United States. The leaders of the criminal organizations targeted in Operation Sweet Tooth refined and improved on the methods used by those in the Operation Candy Box organization. Operation Candy Box disrupted an organization that was responsible for supplying 1 million tablets of MDMA on a monthly basis. The Operation Sweet Tooth organizations were responsible for distributing 1.5 million tablets of MDMA per month, which is equivalent to approximately 22.7% of the estimated 8 metric tons of MDMA imported into the United States in 2003.
Operation Sweet Tooth identified drug trafficking networks that imported MDMA powder into Canada, established clandestine pill press warehouses and smuggled bulk quantities of MDMA tablets into the United States. The financial aspect of the investigation revealed that the drug trafficking syndicates laundered millions of dollars in drug proceeds through the use of bulk courier transport, money remitters and the Vietnamese underground banking system. Assistance provided by both the Vietnamese and Canadian authorities allowed Operation Sweet Tooth to identify the drug distribution and money laundering methods of the organizations.
"Ecstasy is anything but what its name implies – it offers only addiction, pain, and in some instances, death.” Administrator Tandy said. "As this Operation shows, we will discover, dismantle, and decimate Ecstasy trafficking organizations from the kingpin to the street dealer. The U.S. shares a common goal with Canada and Vietnam – the determination to reclaim our neighborhoods from the grip of drugs."
Today’s arrests included Hiep Van Nguyen of Los Angeles, CA and Chiem Mach of Atlanta, GA. These individuals are the ringleaders of their respective multi-million dollar drug distribution networks and are facing drug conspiracy and money laundering charges.
The success of Operation Sweet Tooth would not have been possible without the assistance of the Canadian and Vietnamese governments. Operation Sweet Tooth featured the first instances of operational cooperation between the DEA and the Vietnam Ministry of Public Security. A crucial lead provided by the DEA office located in Hanoi led to the initiation of the investigation and helped identify the international scope of the organizations.
Operation Sweet Tooth is a joint investigation involving the DEA, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in twelve separate judicial districts, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and various U.S. state and local law enforcement agencies, with assistance from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canadian Border Services, and the Vietnam Ministry of Public Security.