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
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
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,
(Arun Kumar can
be contacted at email@example.com)