Saying that drug trafficking in West Africa has become “a plague,” the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday announced the unsealing of charges against four suspected drug traffickers accused of attempting to secured safe passage for millions of dollars worth of heroin from West Africa to the United States by paying off an airport insider.
Samuel Antonio Pinedo-Rueda, 72, a citizen of Colombia; Solomon Adelaquaye, 48, a citizen of Ghana; Frank Muodum, 44, and Celestine Ofor Orjinweke, 53, both citizens of Nigeria, were named on charges of conspiring to import heroin into the United States.
Mr. Pinedo-Rueda was apprehended in Colombia on May 16 pursuant to a Red Notice issued at the request of the United States, and is awaiting extradition. Mr. Adelaquaye, Mr. Muodum and Mr. Orjinweke were arrested in New York on May 9, and presented and arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams.
“Drug trafficking in West Africa has become a plague,” said Derek Maltz, agent in charge of the DEA’s Special Operations Division in New York. “These criminal groups and their facilitators pose a direct threat to the safety and security of innocent Americans.
“Together with our law enforcement partners, DEA is dismantling illicit drug networks in western Africa and around the world, and putting the criminals who operate them behind bars where they belong,” he said.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York said the men “assumed they had secured safe passage for their heroin” but unbeknownst to them, the people on the other side of their transaction were law enforcement insiders working for the DEA.
“Together with our partners, we remain committed to thwarting these plots before they are executed and to apprehending and prosecuting those responsible,” he said.
According to the indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court, in February 2012 in Accra, Ghana, Mr. Pinedo-Rueda, Mr. Muodum, and Mr. Orjinweke sold one kilogram of heroin for $28,000 to two confidential sources working for the DEA. In meetings in connection with the heroin sale, one of the confidential sources purported to be a Colombian narcotics trafficker in search of heroin to sell to customers in New York City; the other purported to be a courier for that trafficker, who would transport the heroin to New York for distribution.
The indictment said Mr. Adelaquaye, who was responsible for security at the international airport in Ghana, agreed to facilitate the movement of the heroin through the airport without detection, in exchange for a $10,000 payment.
In May 2013, according to the indictment, Mr. Adelaquaye, Mr. Muodum and Mr. Orjinweke further agreed that one of the confidential sources would supply them with 3,000 kilograms of cocaine and that in exchange, they would supply the source with a quantity of heroin of equivalent value, to be delivered to the United States in 25-kilogram increments.
The indictment charges each of the defendants with one count of conspiring to import heroin and to distribute heroin, knowing and intending that it would be imported into the United States. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.