- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The woman who headed an international drug-trafficking organization that smuggled millions of Ecstasy pills and other drugs from Canada into the United States from 2002 until 2008 has been sentenced to 70 months in prison on her guilty pleas to drug-smuggling and conspiracy charges.

Phuong Thi Tran, 39, of Ontario was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker in Philadelphia on one count of conspiracy to distribute Ecstasy and methamphetamine and one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute Ecstasy.

Tran, a Canadian citizen, had faced a maximum punishment of life in prison, a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term and a $5 million fine under federal sentencing guidelines, but prosecutors filed a motion for “downward departure” - signaling that she has cooperated with prosecutors in ongoing investigations.

“She did everything she possibly could to assist herself,” said Robert Livermore, a prosecutor in the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section. “I think she has earned for herself a substantial reduction.”

Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said the drugs were manufactured in Canada by various Asian organized crime groups and 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.

Tran’s role in this drug-smuggling conspiracy, court records show, was discovered during the course of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 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. She was arrested in Alaska while traveling from Vietnam.

With the Detroit investigation ongoing, ICE agents in Philadelphia at the same time were conducting a separate but related investigation, which discovered in September 2007 that Tran and her associates sent two couriers to deliver 100,000 Ecstasy pills to customers in Philadelphia and Boston, the records show.

According to court documents, unbeknownst to Tran and her associates, ICE agents learned of the shipment and, with the assistance of the Philadelphia Police Department, stopped the couriers’ vehicle and seized the drugs.

In December, Tran, who was born in Vietnam and immigrated to Canada, was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pennsylvania with conspiracy to distribute Ecstasy pills. The charges from Detroit were then transferred to Philadelphia.

Tran told the judge through a translator that she hoped to be reunited with her family, saying if she was returned to Canada, “I will change my life around.”

According to the Justice Department, the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, in conjunction with U.S. attorneys’ offices, has been working closely with ICE, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and various Canadian law enforcement agencies over the past several years 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 and in Philadelphia by OCRS Trial Attorney Robert J. Livermore. Investigators included agents from ICE, the DEA, the Philadelphia Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the Ontario Provincial Police Department and the Toronto Metropolitan Police Department.

• Jerry Seper can be reached at jseper@washingtontimes.com.

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