DEA Arrests Alleged Pseudoephedrine Traffickers In Chicago Prong of Operation Northern Star
CHICAGO - The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), IRS and Customs agents and local police arrested approximately a dozen defendants in several south suburbs of Chicago in connection with Operation Northern Star, a nationwide investigation of illegal trafficking in pseudoephedrine, an essential ingredient in manufacturing the illegal drug methamphetamine. Eight defendants, including two arrested in Cincinnati, face federal drug-trafficking conspiracy charges in Chicago for allegedly illegally importing pseudoephedrine from Canada and distributing it to California, where it was manufactured into methamphetamine. Two of those eight and a ninth defendant were charged in Chicago with money laundering conspiracy for allegedly disguising the pseudoephedrine proceeds and sending the money out of the country, principally to Jordan. A 10th defendant in Chicago was charged with attempted illegal possession of pseudoephedrine, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
At least four additional defendants arrested here, including one who was shot and wounded during the arrests, are facing federal prosecution in Detroit or Los Angeles in connection with the same investigation, which follows three phases of an earlier, related investigation known as Operation Mountain Express. Nationwide, the Drug Enforcement Administration, together with Customs and Internal Revenue Service agents, also announced the arrests of dozens of defendants in Chicago and other cities, including Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles, where additional federal charges have been filed.
The Chicago prong of Operation Northern Star yielded the seizure of more than 17 million pseudoephedrine tablets, including approximately 12 million in upstate New York last August, and more than $500,000 in cash, including additional seizures of more than $80,000 today. In January 2002, 14 Chicago area defendants, including brothers Khaldon Esawi and Khaled Obeid, were arrested and charged with illegally trafficking in pseudoephedrine as part of Operation Mountain Express III. Those charges are pending in Federal Court in Chicago.
Federal agents and local police began executing at least six federal search warrants early today at south suburban residences of defendants arrested today. One defendant, Abdulqader Mizyed, 29 (dob 9/1/73), who is facing federal prosecution in Los Angeles, was shot and wounded when police and agents arrested him at 6440 West 89th Place, Oak Lawn. Mizyed and a woman at the residence who is not a defendant and who was also wounded, were both reported in stable condition at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn where they were taken for treatment. Three guns, including one from Mizyed and another in his residence, were recovered.
Nine defendants in Chicago were charged in one criminal complaint, and a 10th defendant was charged in a second complaint, both of which were filed late yesterday in U.S. District Court. Eight were charged with conspiracy to illegally import pseudoephedrine, a federally-regulated List I chemical, knowing that it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine. Pseudoephedrine is generally used as an over-the-counter sinus medication, but it is also an essential precursor chemical in the manufacture of methamphetamine, a controlled narcotic substance. Three of the nine defendants in the first complaint were also charged with money laundering conspiracy.
According to the complaint affidavit, eight of the nine defendants conspired since March 2001 to illegally obtain and import pseudoephedrine from brokers in Canada, transport it in tractor-trailers and store it in Las Vegas and Picayune, Miss., before distributing it in southern California to middlemen, and, in turn, to Mexican methamphetamine manufacturers, knowing that the pseudoephedrine would be "cooked" into methamphetamine. The affidavit describes several interceptions of large amounts of cash and shipments of pseudoephedrine.
Leading up to the largest such seizure, the complaint alleges that in mid-August 2002, defendants Ezzat Khalil, Osama Aldawasmeh, Naser Dar Eghrayyeb, Kaidin Alnoubani and Izaldeen Taha agreed to purchase a shipment of 11,678,000 pseudoephedrine tablets from defendant Georges Youssef in Canada for eventual sale in California. The pseudoephedrine was supposed to be smuggled into the United States from Canada concealed in a shipment of bottled water destined for Mississippi. On Aug. 16, 2002, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police followed a truck carrying the shipment to the Canadian-American border crossing at Alexandria Bay, N.Y. At the border, the truck was searched by U.S. Customs Inspectors, who found approximately 11,678,000 pseudoephedrine tablets contained in 1,000-count white plain plastic bottles, which were concealed in cardboard boxes bearing bottled water markings.
The complaint alleges the following:
"Once again, today's action closes a major pipeline that funneled millions of illegal pseudoephedrine tablets from Canada to California, where it was converted into methamphetamine," United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said following the arrests. "Law enforcement did an excellent job of following the chemical trail from the point of origin to the West Coast, and then following the money trail back to Chicago," he said.
Richard W. Sanders, Special Agent-in-Charge of the DEA in Chicago, said: "Without a steady supply of bulk quantities of pseudoephedrine, it's a lot harder to make meth, and you can't sell what you can't make."
Those officials, together, with James W. Martin, Special Agent-in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division , and Elissa A. Brown, Special Agent-in-Charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, both in Chicago, commended the extensive cooperation among local, federal and foreign law enforcement agencies that participated in the investigation, including the RCMP and the following local police departments: Oak Lawn, Justice, Bridgeview, Palos Park, Waukegan and Chicago; the Cook County Sheriff's Police; the Cook County State's Attorney's Office; and the U.S. Marshal's Service.
All of the defendants arrested locally have had an initial court appearance beginning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney I. Schenkier in U.S. District Court.
The nine-defendant complaint charged these individuals and described them as follows:
The nine-defendant complaint also alleges that three defendants - Taha, Khalil and Hussein- conspired to disguise the source of the pseudoephedrine trafficking proceeds by exchanging the cash generated by the sales for official bank checks purchased from a bank account of a grocery store controlled by Hussein. Once the cash had been replaced by official bank checks, Taha arranged to transfer the proceeds to relatives in Jordan.
In the second complaint, Sager Abu Romman, 42 (dob 8/22/60), of 11815 Brookfield Ct., Orland Park, was charged with attempted possession of pseudoephedrine on Sept. 27, 2002.
In addition to Abdulqader Mizyed, also arrested in the Chicago area and facing federal charges in Los Angeles is Saleh Mizyed, age unknown, also of 6440 West 89th Place, Oak Lawn; and charged in Detroit are: Ali Salem, Nasir Baste and Mohammed Awad, whose ages and addresses are not immediately available.
If convicted, each of the Chicago defendants faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Note, however, that the Court, will determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed under the United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The DEA is being represented in the prosecution of these defendants by Assistant United States Attorneys Kevin Powers, Christopher Niewoehner and Aylice Toohey.
The public is reminded that complaints contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
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