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A drug ring smuggled 22,000 pounds of marijuana and 300,000 pills of ecstasy from Canada to Philadelphia, earning $53 million over two years, federal authorities said yesterday.
The 28 people charged imported the marijuana and ecstasy, the psychoactive drug also known as MDMA, in "staggering numbers," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Fritchey. An indictment unsealed yesterday said the ring shipped drugs in bulk by truck and car - usually 100 to 300 pounds of marijuana and 40,000 to 60,000 ecstasy pills at a time.
"We took out a major, major player... a procurer of poison," said Patrick L. Meehan, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Hours after Meehan held a news conference, the alleged ringleader, Benjamin Ton, 32, of Sicklerville, Camden County, pleaded guilty to drug charges and operating a continuing criminal enterprise. He faces 20 or more years in prison, but his sentence may be reduced if he provides substantial cooperation in the continuing investigation.
Ton's lawyer, Elliot Cohen of Philadelphia, could not be reached for comment.
The government's case is based in part on wiretaps of Ton allegedly negotiating deals and statements Ton and others gave after they were arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
To purchase the drugs, the ring smuggled large amounts of cash - as much as $25 million - from Philadelphia to Canada, said Peter S. Alvardo, the senior IRS agent in Philadelphia.
The investigation began two years ago from clues gained from an investigation of a similar gang in New York, said James M. Kasson, the senior DEA agent in Philadelphia.
The others charged include 12 from Philadelphia: Sergio Caldera, 29; Phuc Vinh Vo, 29; Diana Rivera, 28; Suong Thach, 23; Toan Kim, 33; Danh Mac, 26; Michael Nguyen, 29; Pheng Seng, 25; Sang Minh Tieu, 20; Robert Hampton Jr., 26; Chan Nguyen, 30; and Phat Truong Ngo, 39. Three are from Camden: Tha Thach, 26; Thuy A. Le, 24; and Choung Pham, 29.
The others charged are Xuyen Bao Vo, 28, of Eddystone; Lena Loan Le, 28, of Sicklerville; Thuong Minh Le, 27; of Buras, La.; Nhan Vo, 22, of Havertown; Nick Lay, 23, of Norwood; Tri C. Doan, 37, of New Bedford, Mass.; Nhut Quang Le, 31, of New Cumberland, Pa.; Kevin Le, 29, of New Cumberland; Hieu Chau, 26, of Pennsauken; Hieu Bui, 24, of Pennsauken; Timothy Nguyen, 24, of Merchantville; and Sombath Bunkeuit, 34, of North Wales.
If convicted, each of those defendants faces a 10-year minimum mandatory prison sentence, Fritchey said.