ALEXANDRIA, VA. – The leader and members of an international heroin trafficking ring have been charged with using couriers to smuggle heroin from Ghana into the United States, a sign of the growth of West Africa as a major hub for international drug trafficking. Today’s charges were made public after coordinated arrests in Ghana, Maryland, and New York.
Ava Cooper-Davis, Special Agent in Charge for Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s Washington Division and Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia made the announcement.
“Drug Trafficking organizations know no borders,” said DEA SAC Cooper-Davis. “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. Let this be a message to others who would engage in trafficking drugs to 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.”
“International drug-trafficking organizations pose a sustained, serious threat to the safety and security as of our communities, and West Africa has grown as a major transshipment point for these organizations,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “We can’t ignore transnational organizations in other countries on the naïve assumption that they are a danger only overseas. We are committed to disrupting overseas sources of supply before the drugs reach our borders and to take out the organization’s leadership regardless of where across the globe they reside.”
According to an April 28, 2011, indictment unsealed today and other court records, Edward Macauley, a/k/a “Cudjoe Opoku,” 61, is a resident of Ghana and is the alleged leader of a Ghana-based heroin trafficking organization that recruits couriers to hide heroin in their carry-on bags to smuggle into the United States through Washington Dulles International Airport. The organization pays couriers up to $15,000 to transport the heroin, along with providing airfare, passports, and hotel accommodations until the drugs are transferred to distributors within the United States. Macauley also allegedly works with a specialist who designs courier bags for the organization to conceal the heroin from detection when inspected.
Matilda Antwi, 29, of Alexandria, Va., is alleged to have been recruited by Macauley to be a courier for the organization, and she attempted to smuggle 1.2 kilograms of heroin on Sept. 4, 2010, through Dulles. Theophilus Akwei, 35, of Germantown, Md., and Joseph Duodo, 54, of Greenbelt, Md., are accused of receiving smuggled heroin from couriers in February 2011. William Andoh, a/k/a “Willie,” 38, of The Bronx, N.Y., is charged with being a heroin distributor for the trafficking ring in Baltimore, Md., and New York, N.Y.
Others charged include the following defendants, all residents of Ghana:
All alleged members of the conspiracy have been charged with conspiracy to import heroin. Other charges brought against members of the conspiracy include distribution for the purpose of unlawful importation of heroin and possession with intent to distribute heroin. Each of the charges in the indictment carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, if convicted.
In a related case, Yvonne Ansah Owusu, 26, of Alexandria, Va., was arrested on May 29, 2011, 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 transport the suitcase containing heroin from Ghana to the United States. She is scheduled for a jury trial on August 23, 2011, and also faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, if convicted.
This Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation was conducted by the DEA’s Washington and New York Field Divisions and DEA’s Special Operations Division, with assistance from the Ghanaian Narcotics Control Board and Ghana Police Services, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Arlington Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys James P. Gillis and Karen L. Dunn of the National Security and International Crime Unit are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States, with cooperation from New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan.
Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.