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February 25, 10

NEWS / Ringleader of International Drug Trafficking Ring Pleads Guilty for Role in Smuggling Illegal Drugs

Phuong Thi Tran, 39, of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, pleaded guilty today for her role in two drug trafficking conspiracies, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; Michael L. Levy, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Barbara L. McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan; and Assistant Secretary John Morton of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to court documents, Tran was the ringleader of an international drug trafficking organization that smuggled millions of ecstasy pills and other drugs from Canada into the United States from 2002 until Tran’s arrest in April 2008. The drugs were manufactured in Canada by various Asian organized crime groups and were distributed to drug dealers across the United States. According to court documents, Tran and her associates often smuggled 100,000 ecstasy pills per week into the United States.

According to court papers, Tran’s role in this drug smuggling conspiracy was discovered during the course of an investigation by ICE special agents in Detroit after they had seized several drug shipments that Tran had arranged to smuggle into the United States. In October 2006, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Michigan indicted Tran for conspiring to distribute ecstasy pills.

At the same time, ICE special agents in Philadelphia were conducting a separate but related investigation. As uncovered during that investigation, in September 2007, Tran and her associates sent two couriers to deliver 100,000 ecstasy pills to customers in Philadelphia and Boston. Unbeknownst to Tran and her associates, ICE special agents learned of this shipment and, with the assistance of the Philadelphia Police Department, stopped the couriers’ vehicle and seized the drugs. In December 2009, Tran was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with conspiracy to distribute ecstasy pills. The charges from Detroit were then transferred to Philadelphia.

Tran pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Court Judge Petrese B. Tucker to one count of conspiracy to distribute ecstasy and methamphetamine and one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute ecstasy. At sentencing, Tran faces a maximum punishment of life in prison, a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term and a $5 million fine. Sentencing is scheduled for June 2, 2010.

For the past several years, the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime & Racketeering Section (OCRS), in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, have been working closely with ICE, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and various Canadian law enforcement agencies, to crack down on Asian organized crime groups that law enforcement officials estimate smuggle billions of dollars worth of drugs into the United States from Canada each year.

The case was prosecuted in Detroit by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn McCarthy. The case was prosecuted in Philadelphia by OCRS Trial Attorney Robert Livermore. The case was investigated by ICE, with the assistance of the DEA; the Philadelphia Police Department; Pennsylvania State Police; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the Ontario Provincial Police Department; and the Toronto Metropolitan Police Department.


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AnnaMaria Realbuto
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