Pubdate: Tue, 15 Apr 2003
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2003 Associated Press
Author: Associated Press


WASHINGTON -- U.S. and Canadian officials said Tuesday they had disrupted a 
major methamphetamine supply system, netting 67 arrests and tons of illegal 

The 18-month investigation, dubbed "Operation North Star," centered on the 
shipment of pseudoephedrine -- a common nasal decongestant that in large 
amounts is a key ingredient in methamphetamine -- from three Canadian 
companies to large illicit labs in the Southwestern U.S.

The charges were brought in indictments unsealed Tuesday in New York, Los 
Angeles and Chicago, as well as cases brought in Canada. Among those 
charged are six current or former executives with three Canadian companies 
- -- Frega Inc., Formulex and GC Medical Products -- who allegedly diverted 
thousands of pounds of pseudoephedrine to the U.S. for illegal use.

"Without a steady supply of pseudoephedrine, it's a lot harder to make 
methamphetamine," said Roger Guevara, DEA chief of operations.

Most of the shipments were made by truck over the Ambassador Bridge in 
Detroit, often hidden within legitimate loads of bottled water, bubble gum 
and other goods. The main brokers were in Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit and 
Los Angeles, officials said.

Charges were also brought against operators of illicit labs, many in areas 
around Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, as well as transporters and 
distributors of pseudoephedrine. Search warrants executed Tuesday resulted 
in the seizure of more than 34,000 pounds of pseudoephedrine, $3.6 million 
in cash and six homes, officials said.

The investigation grew out of an earlier probe called "Mountain Express" 
that mainly targeted the domestic illegal use of pseudoephedrine. In 
January 2002, more than 100 people were arrested in an earlier 
investigation of Canadian suppliers.

Authorities were hesitant to make any connection between the drug 
operations and terrorism, despite the use by the alleged money launderers 
of the "hawallah" transfer schemes frequently favored by financiers of 
terror networks such as al Qaeda. These transfer schemes are run outside 
normal bank and financial channels, escaping government oversight.

Many of the alleged brokers, money launderers and go-betweens were of 
Middle Eastern origin, including one New York man -- grocery store owner 
Alaa Odeh -- whose uncle was recently arrested in Israel's West Bank on 
charges of being a member of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group. Much of the 
money was funneled to Amman, Jordan, and the West Bank cities of Nablus and 

Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, head of the Justice 
Department's criminal division, said no charges directly involved terrorism 
but the investigation into the money trail would continue.

"We're always interested in following the money and seeing where the money 
goes," Mr. Chertoff said at a news conference at Drug Enforcement 
Administration headquarters.

The indictment filed in New York federal court cites an intercepted 
conversation between Mr. Odeh and another person, in which Mr. Odeh says 
that his "Uncle Tayel" was arrested as part of the Islamic Jihad group. 
Elsewhere in the documents, that person is identified as Tail Uda, one of 
those helping launder the methamphetamine money in the West Bank.
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