US busts major drug ring run by three Indians

August 5th, 2011 - 7:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 5 (IANS) Three smugglers from India are among a group of five busted in what has been dubbed ‘Operation Liquid Dragon’, one of the biggest ephedrine rings operated out of the US by a Mexican drug cartel.

The arrests shut down a pipeline that moved the precursor chemical from India to the US to Mexico, much of it in liquid form and labelled “green tea extract”, according to Oregonlive.com.

Government prosecutors estimate the shipments helped the cartel put between $20 million and $38 million of meth on the street — most of it in the US.

Most of the money was traced to Antonio Gonzalez, a US customs broker with homes on both sides of the border. Agents found that much of the money flowed out of Gonzalez’s accounts to banks in Oregon and India.

Court records show that more than $5 million in wire transfers — along with $2.6 million in cash — landed in a Wells Fargo account for Spring Dragon Sourcing, a nutritional company owned by Forest Grove entrepreneur Verlyn Craig Payton.

He transferred $7.2 million to five businesses in India, primarily Nutramed Biotech, owned by Subhash Naithani of Noida, India.

Arrested at a Las Vegas trade show in November 2009 in a sting operation, all five men pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced punishment.

US District Judge Anna J. Brown in Portland, Oregon Thursday sentenced 40-year-old ephedrine broker Naithani to 4 1/2 years in prison. The others were sentenced earlier this year.

Sachin Sharma, 35 also got 4 1/2 years in prison. Manoj Kovummal got a four-year term. The Indian businessmen will be deported after serving their sentences.

Payton, 47, who brokered the illegal shipments between the US and India, also got four years. Gonzalez, 57, described as a key supplier of ephedrine to intermediaries in Mexico, who then supplied a major drug cartel, was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The government seized $5.5 million in assets from defendants in the case, including $2.2 million in bank accounts, palladium ingots, a 1975 Cessna Chancellor 414A airplane and luxury autos including a 2008 Tesla Roadster electric car.

Roughly $4.2 million was forfeited to the US government, prosecutors said.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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