- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2011

Eight people from Ghana have been charged in connection with running an international drug trafficking ring through Washington Dulles International Airport, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

The ring recruited couriers who were paid $15,000 to smuggle as much as $250,000 worth of heroin a trip, said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

They allegedly used carry-on bags that concealed the heroin in the lining or in a special compartment.

Edward Macauley, 61, a resident of Ghana, is the alleged leader of the group.

Several of those charged in connection with the ring have ties to the area.

Theophilus Akwei, 35, of Germantown, Md., and Joseph Duodo, 54, of Greenbelt, Md., are accused of receiving smuggled heroin from couriers in February 2011.

Matilda Antwi, 29, of Alexandria, Va., attempted to smuggle 1.2 kilograms of heroin through the Northern Virginia airport on Sept. 4, 2010, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Seven of the eight involved have been arrested and will be returned to Virginia to face charges. In addition to Mr. Akwei and Mr. Duodo, who were arrested Thursday morning in Maryland, three arrests were made in Ghana, one in New York and one in Virginia.

The charges, outlined in an April 28 indictment unsealed Thursday, range from conspiracy to import heroin to possession with intent to distribute heroin. The sentencing range for each charge in the indictment is 10 years to life in prison, if convicted.

“International drug-trafficking organizations pose a sustained, serious threat to the safety and security of our communities, and West Africa has grown as a major trans-shipment point for these organizations,” Mr. MacBride said. “We cant ignore transnational organizations in other countries on the naive assumption that they are a danger only overseas.”

The agency conducted the joint investigation with Ghanaian officials, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the Arlington County Police Department.

The smuggling ring has been operating for a year or less, Mr. MacBride said.

“This is not a cartel that’s been operating for the last 20 years in this country,” he said.

Nevertheless, the arrests served notice to would-be transnational criminals, said Ava Cooper-Davis, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington division.

“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,” she said. “There is no safe haven for your crimes.”

The investigation is ongoing and more charges are possible, Mr. MacBride said.