SEATTLE - A man who coordinated the smuggling of thousands of Benzylpiperazine (BZP) tablets into western Washington and transported them to the Midwest for sale was sentenced today to five years in federal prison, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Nen Angel Cruces, 23, of Daly City, Calif., was arrested by ICE agents in June 2009 at a Bellingham, Wash., storage facility where thousands of the BZP tablets he helped smuggle from Canada were temporarily stored. Cruces pleaded guilty in November 2009 to possession of BZP with intent to distribute.
According to court documents, Cruces made a dozen trips between the United States and Canada during a nine-month period starting in August 2008. ICE's investigation into his activity revealed that he was storing BZP and Ecstasy tablets in a storage unit until he was able to transport them to Chicago by train.
Cruces relied on others to illegally smuggle the tablets into the United States. However, he would cross the border at the same time, in a separate vehicle, and meet the smuggler at the storage unit.
When the quantity of tablets reached 100,000, Cruces would board an Amtrak train destined for Chicago. Once in Chicago, he hired a limousine and traveled to Detroit where the drugs were distributed for sale.
"Today's prison sentence is a reminder of the serious consequences drug traffickers face for trying to bring illicit drugs into our communities," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Seattle. "ICE remains committed to dismantling the international drug trade while ensuring that those who are involved don't benefit financially."
At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones told Cruces, "This Court considers BZP to be a very dangerous drug. If you walk around the city of Seattle, you will see the many young people and kids who are suffering from addiction to drugs as a result of their use of Ecstasy and BZP. By bringing in hundreds of thousands of pills into this country, you bear some responsibility for that."
One of Cruces' co-defendants, Krysta Edwards, was sentenced last month to five years in federal prison for her role in the drug smuggling conspiracy.
BZP is chemical stimulant similar to the drug Ecstasy, and is usually produced in powder or tablet form. In 2004, BZP was classified as a Schedule 1, controlled drug in the United States. Twelve other countries have also banned BZP, making it illegal to produce, sell and possess the substance without authorization.
ICE was joined in this investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Seattle Police Department.