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Ecstasy cartel sentenced to 121 years

ATLANTA -- Multiple defendants -- including several from Gwinnett -- were sentenced for their roles in an international ecstasy trafficking and money laundering ring.

Federal authorities said the cartel is responsible for bringing hundreds of thousands of methamphetamine-laced ecstasy pills from Canada, distributing the drugs here and in other major U.S. cities.

The group, authorities said, used money remitting companies to funnel the money through Vietnam and back to Canada.

According to authorities, a Canadian citizen, Chiem Mach, came to Atlanta in 2004 to coordinate the drug smuggling operation while his wife, son and others operated from Canada.

The pills were driven across the border, usually hidden in a vehicle's gas tank. Once in the U.S., the drugs were distributed up and down the east coast.

Authorities seized the drugs about a year later, in December 2005.

Mach died in custody before he could be tried.

Cartel members were sentenced to a total of 121 years in prison.

From Gwinnett were:

* Hung The Pham, 38, of Norcross, was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised released. Authorities said he was a "top lieutenant" in the operation. He pleaded guilty on July 10, 2008, to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute ecstasy, methamphetamine and marijuana and conspiracy to launder money.

* Hung Hoang, 30, of Norcross, was sentenced to 14 years in prison and five years of supervised release. Hoang was arrested on June 24, 2005, after distributing 10,000 pills outside a Gwinnett County restaurant. Hoang pleaded guilty on April 29, 2008, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute ecstasy, marijuana and methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

* Tien Ho, 27, of Lawrenceville, was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison and five years of supervised release. Ho pleaded guilty on July 15, 2008, to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute ecstasy, methamphetamine and marijuana.

* Phouc Tiet, 40, of Lawrenceville, was sentenced to seven years, four months in prison and five years of supervised release. Tiet pleaded guilty on Sept. 6, 2006, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute ecstasy and marijuana.

* Phuont T. Nguyen, 40, of Lawrenceville, was sentenced to three years of probation for concealing ecstasy tablets.

* Long Nguyen, 62, of Lawrenceville, was sentenced to three years of probation for conspiracy to launder money.

* Chi Le, 33, of Norcross, was sentenced to three years of probation. She is Pham's wife and helped him launder drug proceeds on one occasion.