24 indicted in federal drug bust

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Vienamese drug smuggling operation centered in Gwinnett and Toronto, Canada, was busted up on Thursday when a federal grand jury indicted 24 men, 23 of whom were county residents.

The indictment was predicated upon searches and seizures in Atlanta, Detroit, Albany, N.Y., and New York City, and several other cities nationwide. The search warrants have netted more than 200,000 ecstasy tablets and more than 400 pounds of hydroponic marijuana, said Patrick Crosby, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta.

On Thursday morning, federal state and local agents searched 10 locations in the Gwinnett County area as part of what has been dubbed "Operation Sweet Tooth." The locations included three wire remitting services believed to have been used to transfer drug proceeds from the United States to Vietnam, Canada and elsewhere, Crosby said.

Arrested in the local busts were Chiem Mach, 55, Phi Huynh, 21, Phoung Nguyen, 36, Phuk Tam Banh, 26, Khoa Nguyen, 29, Thao Pham, 24, Tien Ho, 23, Hung The Pham, 34, Thien L. Tran, 29, Phoec Tan Tiet, 35, Khoi Nguyen, age unknown, Dung Chi Le, 35, Hoa Thi Ngoc Tran, 33, all of Gwinnett. A Canadian citizen - 35-year-old Scott D. Booty - was also jailed.

Prior to Thursday's takedown, the following people were arrested: Qian Zian, 34, and Xue-Zhong Zhou, 39, who were apprehended in New York; Sokhim Sim, 31, who was captured coming across the Canadian border into New York; Phi Lau, 42, captured sneaking across the Canadian border into Detroit; Richard Trong Ong, 32, who was jailed in Boston; and Minh Ho, 33, Hung Hoang, 26, Phuong Duy Nguyen, 21, and Andrew Hguyen, 19, all of Gwinnett.

The law enforcement sting stems from a joint investigation in the United States and Canada which was code-named "Candy Box." The operation involved an international drug and money-laundering organization smuggling multi-kilogram quantities of ecstacy and hydroponic marijuana into the United States via Canada.

The drugs were subsequently distributed nationwide, with profits in the millions of dollars. Those proceeds were either transported to Canada or wire transferred around the world, mostly to Vietnam.

About 130 individuals have been arrested worldwide on March 31, 2004, as a result of the investigation, federal officials said. Millions of dollars and other assets were seized, as well as hundreds of thousands of MDMA tablets and large caches of marijuana and narcotics paraphernalia.

"This case illustrates that the threat of dangerous drugs comes not only from the Southwest border and Mexico but also from the Northern border and Asia," said U.S. Attorney David Nahmias in a statement issued Thursday. "The drug threat involves not only cocaine and methamphetamine, but also marijuana and ecstacy."