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Homeland Security

24 January 2005

DEA Dismantles International Drug-Trafficking Organization

Ecstasy ring supplied 15 percent of U.S. market

The January 18 extradition of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Priority Target Ze Wai Wong from Canada to the United States marks the culmination of a two-year investigation and the dismantlement of an international drug-trafficking operation that supplied 15 percent of the U.S. Ecstasy (MDMA) market, according to a January 19 DEA press release.

Ze Wai Wong was arrested in Canada on March 31, 2004, along with more than 130 defendants in 16 cities across the United States, as part of an investigation dubbed Operation Candy Box -- a two-year multi-jurisdictional and international Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, the DEA said.

Operation Candy Box revealed that bulk quantities of MDMA tablets were being produced in clandestine labs in Canada and smuggled into the United States.

Three Canadian MDMA labs were shuttered as a result of the investigation, and the U.S. MDMA market was crippled, the DEA said. The DEA pointed to an 8 percent increase in the average price of an MDMA tablet and a 10.8 percent decrease in the average purity of the tablets as evidence of the impact of Operation Candy Box.

Following is the text of the DEA press release, with further details:

(begin text)

U.S. DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENCY
Washington, D.C.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 19, 2005

DEA Finds Significant Nationwide Impact as a Result of International Ecstasy Investigation

JANUARY 18, WASHINGTON, D.C. -- DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy announced today the extradition of DEA Priority Target Ze Wai Wong from Canada to the United States and DEA findings of a significant aftershock in the U.S. Ecstasy market caused by the dismantlement of the Ze Wai Wong international drug-trafficking organization.

Ze Wai Wong -- alleged to be the leader of an international Ecstasy (MDMA) ring that supplied 15 percent of the U.S. Ecstasy market -- now faces charges in the United States for drug trafficking and conspiracy charges stemming from an indictment in the Southern District of New York. If convicted, Wong faces a maximum of 40 years in prison on all charges. Ze Wai Wong was arrested in Canada on March 31, 2004, along with more than 130 defendants in 16 cities across the United States, as part of an investigation dubbed Operation Candy Box. These arrests marked the culmination of a two-year multi-jurisdictional and international Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation that was coordinated by the multi-agency Special Operations Division targeting a significant MDMA and marijuana trafficking organization in both the United States and Canada.

"The extradition of Ze Wai Wong to stand trial in the U.S. is a fitting conclusion to Wong's reign of preying on the U.S. with this dangerous drug that is primarily peddled to our youth," said DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy. "For the first time in all law enforcement, DEA has measured the impact of this operation, revealing that Operation Candy Box decimated the U.S. MDMA market -- dramatically reducing MDMA availability, slashing its purity, and raising its price," she said.

The DEA findings coincide with the findings of the December 2004 Monitoring the Future Survey that MDMA use by high school seniors plummeted 57 percent over the past three years. The Survey also reports a 24 percent decline in perceived availability of MDMA by high school seniors.

Operation Candy Box revealed that bulk quantities of MDMA tablets were being produced in clandestine labs in Canada and smuggled into the United States. This operation spanned 16 U.S. cities while Canadian authorities conducted related investigations in the cities of Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. In August 2003, three fully operational tableting laboratories were discovered and dismantled by Canadian officials as a result of Operation Candy Box. According to information developed during the investigation, the organization was capable of distributing up to one million MDMA tablets per month in the U.S. and Canada. This organization utilized a sophisticated money-laundering network of money remitters and travel agencies in both the U.S. and Canada to launder millions of dollars in drug proceeds. Seizures in Operation Candy Box totaled 407,000 MDMA tablets, 1,370 pounds of marijuana, 6.5 pounds of methamphetamine, and $8.9 million in currency.

As a result of Operation Candy Box, the nationwide MDMA market was crippled. Data from four cities (Los Angeles, California; Houston, Texas; New Orleans Louisiana; and Jacksonville, Florida) where the targeted organization operated revealed the following MDMA market impact by DEA and its law enforcement partners:

-- Nationwide, the average price of a tablet of MDMA increased 8 percent, reversing a three-year MDMA declining price trend where the average price of a MDMA tablet had decreased 65 percent.
-- Following Operation Candy Box, the nationwide average purity of a tablet of MDMA decreased 10.8 percent to the lowest purity level measured since 1996.
-- The seizure of $8.9 million in U.S. currency prevented the additional distribution of 17-34 million MDMA tablets.
-- In Jacksonville, there were no MDMA-related deaths during the six months following Operation Candy Box, compared to four MDMA-related deaths during the three months prior to Operation Candy Box.
-- In Miami, the price for DEA undercover purchases of MDMA immediately increased 110 percent from an average of $5.52 per MDMA tablet prior to Operation Candy Box to $11.62 per tablet the month following the Operation. When DEA measured price again, six months after Operation Candy Box, the MDMA tablet price increase remained high ($10.69), reflecting an overall sustained MDMA price increase of 93 percent.
-- In New Orleans, the price for DEA undercover purchases of MDMA increased 66 percent from an average of $10.50 per MDMA pill prior to the culmination of Operation Candy Box, to $17.50 one month following the Operation.
-- In Los Angeles, the price for DEA undercover purchases of MDMA increased 147 percent from an average of $7.04 per MDMA pill prior to the conclusion of Operation Candy Box, to $17.41 in the two months following the Operation.
-- In Houston, there were 48 seized exhibits of MDMA during the three month period preceding the takedown of Operation Candy Box, and only 9 seized MDMA exhibits during the three months following Operation Candy Box: an 81 percent decrease in MDMA seizures.

Operation Candy Box is a joint investigation involving the DEA, FBI, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the United States Attorneys, Department of Justice Criminal Division, and various state and local law enforcement agencies, in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canadian Border Services, Toronto Police Department, Ontario Provincial Police, and Ottawa Police Department.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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