- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) yesterday wrapped up a two-year undercover investigation that targeted international drug smuggling rings and money laundering operations that sent Ecstasy and marijuana to buyers from the back alleys of the Far East to the streets of Canada and the United States.

The investigation, known as “Operation Sweet Tooth,” netted 291 arrests and resulted in the seizure of nearly 1 million Ecstasy pills, 1,800 pounds of marijuana and $ 7.75 million in U.S. assets.

“As this operation shows, we will discover, dismantle and decimate Ecstasy trafficking organizations from the kingpin to the street dealer,” DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy said. “The U.S. shares a common goal with Canada and Vietnam — the determination to reclaim our neighborhoods from the grip of drugs,” she said.

Mrs. Tandy said DEA agents, along with partners from several international, federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies, targeted two major drug transportation rings with ties to 61 separate domestic investigations. The arrests marked the conclusion of an international and multi-jurisdictional operation that was coordinated by DEA’s special operations division, she said.

The undercover probe identified drug trafficking networks that imported Ecstasy, or MDMA, powder into Canada, established clandestine pill press warehouses and smuggled bulk quantities of the drug into the United States, Mrs. Tandy said. Investigators discovered that the drug networks laundered millions of dollars in illicit profits through the use of bulk courier transport, money remitters and the Vietnamese underground banking system, she said.

Assistance provided by both Vietnamese and Canadian authorities allowed Operation Sweet Tooth to identify the drug distribution and money laundering methods of the organizations, Mrs. Tandy said.

Operation Sweet Tooth follows a major Ecstasy investigation that culminated in the spring of 2004 and was known as “Operation Candy Box.” It was responsible for dismantling an international Ecstasy ring that imported MDMA tablets into Canada for distribution into the United States.

Mrs. Tandy said 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, who were responsible for supplying 1 million tablets of Ecstasy on a monthly basis.

She said the Operation Sweet Tooth organizations were responsible for distributing 1.5 million tablets a month, about 23 percent of the estimated 8 metric tons of Ecstasy imported into the United States in 2003.

Named by the DEA as ringleaders in the operation were Hiep Van Nguyen of Los Angeles and Chiem Mach of Atlanta, both of whom were arrested on drug conspiracy and money laundering charges.

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