South Florida part of federal takedown targeting Chinese fentanyl supply chain producers

Federal officials announced a series of indictments and sanctions against Chinese companies and executives Tuesday, accusing them of importing chemicals used to make fentanyl and methamphetamine into Florida, including Broward County.

The actions have placed the state at the center of the Biden administration’s latest effort to combat the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history.

Three Chinese companies shipped the chemicals to undercover federal agents based in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, as well as to a known drug trafficker in Deerfield Beach, according to the indictments unsealed in the Southern District of Florida.

Five other indictments were unsealed in the Middle District of Florida’s Tampa Division.

In total, eight Chinese companies are accused of advertising, manufacturing and distributing precursor chemicals for synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The announcement of the charges came one day before senior administration officials were set to visit Mexico, whose cartels are part of the global trafficking network, for meetings expected to involve discussion of the drug threat.

“We know that this network includes the cartels’ leaders, their drug traffickers, their money launderers, their clandestine lab operators, their security forces, their weapons suppliers, and their chemical suppliers,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a Tuesday  news conference. “And we know that this global fentanyl supply chain, which ends with the deaths of Americans, often starts with chemical companies in China.”

The three companies charged in the Southern District of Florida are Hanhong Medicine Technology, Hubei Guanleng Biotechnology, and New Material Technology.

Besides charging eight companies, the Justice Department also indicted 12 executives for their alleged roles in drug trafficking.

None of those charged has been arrested, but Garland said prosecutors intended to “bring every one of these defendants to justice.”

Jiangsu Bangdeya New Material Technology

Between late 2021 and mid-2023, the China-based company Jiangsu Bangdeya New Material Technology, known as Bangdeya, shipped hundreds of grams of synthetic opioids to a Deerfield Beach drug trafficker and undercover agents, according to the indictment.

The company’s owner and operator, Jiantong Wang, known by the alias “Jack,” is now facing several charges, including conspiracy to import and distribute synthetic opioids protonitazene and metonitazene.

The Deerfield Beach trafficker mixed the opioids with his fentanyl and heroin supply, the indictment says, which he then sold to other traffickers in South Florida.

The trafficker communicated with a co-conspirator of Wang’s through What’sApp to order hundreds of grams of the synthetic opioids each month. The payments were held in a Bitcoin wallet under Wang’s name.

The trafficker, who was not identified in the indictment, was arrested in June, while Wang continued distributing the chemicals to undercover agents up until at least July of this year.

Hanhong Medicine Technology

Another Chinese company, Hanhong Medicine Technology, shipped dozens of kilograms of fentanyl precursors and additives to South Florida-based undercover agents, according to the indictment.

Changgen Du, known by the alias “Parr Du,” director of Hanhong, and Xuebi Gan, known by the alias “Bella Chen,” a sales representative for the company, are now charged with several counts, including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute fentanyl and a fentanyl precursor with the intent to unlawfully import into the U.S.

Over the last year and a half, the two sold and shipped over 43 kilograms of 1-Boc-4-P, a fentanyl precursor, and over 300 grams of xylazine, a horse tranquilizer that is often mixed into fentanyl to ensure a more potent high, to addresses in Broward and Miami-Dade counties provided by federal agents pretending to be customers. The two were paid in cryptocurrency.

While Du was based in Mexico, Gan was based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Agents searched her home and found hundreds of grams of controlled substances, including fentanyl mixed with xylazine, as well as pill presses.

Guanleng Biotechnology

Finally, Hubei Guanlang Biotechnology, a third company based in China, sold methamphetamine precursors to undercover agents in South Florida and manufacturers in Mexico, according to the indictment.

The company’s director, Wei Zhang, now faces several charges, including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute a methamphetamine precursor with intent to unlawfully import into the U.S.

A co-conspirator of Zhang’s would communicate with an undercover agent, who made payments to a cryptocurrency wallet in Zhang’s name.

The company shipped over nine kilograms of methylamine HCL to a mailbox in Broward County at the request of the undercover agent, according to the indictment; that amount of the precursor can be used to make around 22 kilograms of meth.

Sanctions imposed

In a coordinated action, the Treasury Department also announced sanctions against 28 people and companies — mostly in China but also in Canada — that will cut them off from the U.S. financial system and prohibit anyone in the U.S. from doing business with them.

“It’s the latest step in the rapid scaling up of our work targeting the financial flows that power the global illicit drug trade,” said Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo. He said Treasury is also seeking out the friends, family members, and affiliates of the people who benefit from drug sales.

“If you benefit from the proceeds of this illicit activity, we are going to come after your assets,” he said.

Mexico and China are the primary sources for fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked directly into the U.S., according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is tasked with combating illicit drug trafficking. Nearly all the precursor chemicals that are needed to make fentanyl come from China. And the companies that make the precursors routinely use fake return addresses and mislabel the products in order to avoid being caught by law enforcement.

Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, is the deadliest drug in the U.S. today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that drug overdose deaths have increased more than sevenfold from 2015 to 2021.

More than 100,000 deaths a year have been linked to drug overdoses since 2020 and about two-thirds of those are related to fentanyl. The death toll is more than 10 times as many drug deaths as in 1988, at the height of the crack epidemic.

The U.S. has taken a slew of actions to stem the tide of fentanyl coming into the country. Overall, the Biden administration has imposed over 200 sanctions related to the illegal drug trade.

State lawmakers nationwide are responding to the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history by pushing harsher penalties for possessing fentanyl.

In a speech at the Family Summit on Fentanyl last week, Garland said the Justice Department was sending out some $345 million in federal funding over the next year, including money to support mentoring for at-risk young people and increase access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of legislators out of the Senate Banking and Armed Services committees has introduced legislation that would declare fentanyl trafficking a national emergency and prod Treasury to use its sanctions authority to quell the proliferation of the drug in the U.S.

It would also impose reporting requirements and enable the president to confiscate sanctioned property of fentanyl traffickers to use for law enforcement efforts.

Associated Press reporter Lindsay Whitehurst in Wilmington, Delaware, contributed to this report.

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