Huge Nigerian Drug Ring Immobilized, Officials Report
WASHINGTON (AP) _ An international heroin network run largely by Nigerian women was immobilized Friday with the arrests of 34 people from New York to Thailand, the Justice Department said.
The smuggling and distribution ring operated from Southeast Asia to U.S. cities including Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee, Attorney General Janet Reno told a news conference.
``We have scored another victory in the effort to stop the flow of drugs into our country,″ said Reno, who praised ``an unprecedented display of cooperation″ among local police in America, federal agents and law enforcement officials in Thailand, France and Britain.
The arrests ``immobilized an important international Nigerian syndicate, based in Bangkok, which smuggled heroin through Europe and Mexico and distributed it to street gangs in the Midwest,″ said Thomas A. Constantine, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Authorities participating in Operation Global Sea _ begun last year _ made arrests Friday in Chicago, New York, Detroit, Pakistan and Bangkok, Thailand. With earlier actions, authorities have seized heroin with a street value of more than $26 million and charged 44 defendants with drug-related offenses.
The ring began five years ago when a group of Nigerian women smuggled heroin in small amounts for existing organized-crime groups. But the smugglers progressed since then ``to the point where they are as powerful as any in the world,″ Constantine said.
The DEA said 32 of Friday’s arrests were in the United States, one in Pakistan and one in Bangkok. Fifteen were women, all from Nigeria. Two of those arrested are former Boston police officers.
President Clinton said in a written statement that the operation ``marks another milestone in our effort to cripple major international drug-trafficking cartels.″
Officials at the news conference said the key distributor of the heroin in the United States was Jumoke Kafayat Majekodunmi, a Nigerian woman also known as ``Kafi″ who was arrested in Chicago. She allegedly used her women’s clothing boutique in that city as a front for heroin trafficking.
Anthony Smith, described as a key conspiracy figure, was arrested in Bangkok, but another leader, Musiliu Balogun, remains at large, the officials said.
Constantine said the ring directed heroin smuggling from Singapore, Bangkok and other Far East points to western European cities. Couriers then took the drugs to Central America, Mexico and then to the United States.
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gelbard has said Nigerian traffickers are encouraged by their military government and that their use of tens of thousands of couriers poses a growing global threat.
The Nigerian case is the most startling example of how drug trafficking has become one of the most serious threats in the Cold War’s aftermath, Gelbard told a journalists’ conference earlier this year.
Constantine said the breakthrough came when ``an alert Customs (U.S. Customs Service) official started the investigation in Boston.″
In addition to the Boston investigation, a one-ounce undercover purchase of heroin in Milwaukee by federal agents launched another aspect of the probe. Eventually, the investigations were combined.
Prosecutors and agents ``were able to build a case in less than a year and were able to unravel the syndicate,″ Constantine commented.
Officials said about 55.5 kilograms of heroin have been seized in the operation, with a wholesale value of between $150,000 and $200,000 a kilogram _ and a retail value of more than $500,000 per kilo.