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California man charged with methamphetamine trafficking in Hawaii

HONOLULU - A Southern California man pleaded not guilty this week to charges in a superseding indictment accusing him and eight others of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and related methamphetamine-trafficking offenses.

John Tai, 43, of Carson, Calif., was arraigned in federal court in Honolulu on July 19. Tai's arraignment in Honolulu comes nearly one month after he was taken into custody without incident at his Southern California home.

According to the superseding indictment filed on June 23, as part of the conspiracy, Tai supplied methamphetamine to other co-defendants in several transactions. In those transactions, which took place from March 2009 to February 2010, the amount of methamphetamine ranged from one pound to four pounds. The charges stem from a two-year investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Florence T. Nakakuni, U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii, said, "the results are another illustration of the importance of inter-agency cooperation in incapacitating the organizations responsible for interstate transportation of methamphetamine to Hawaii."

The other defendants in the case were indicted by a grand jury on May 26. Honolulu residents Fouina C. Toilolo, 40; Aloalii Tootoo, 39; Jordan Fonoti, 22; Pulaa Gatoloai, 38; Harry Akana, 35; and Daniel Fola, 27, were arrested in Hawaii. The remaining two defendants, Kaisa Tai, 40, and Louis Tai, 33, brothers of John Tai, were arrested in American Samoa, where they reside.

"This investigation has dismantled what we believe was one of the larger and more lucrative methamphetamine distribution rings operating here in islands," said Wayne Wills, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Hawaii. "Methamphetamine is a horrible drug that destroys lives and devastates entire communities. By pooling our information, resources and expertise, HSI and its law enforcement partners have succeeded in shutting down a criminal organization that posed a serious threat to public safety."

"Law enforcement continues in a day-to-day battle against the blight of methamphetamine that afflicts so many in our communities," said Robin Dinlocker, assistant special agent in charge for the DEA in Hawaii. "This organization will no longer be able to prey on our citizens by importing and distributing dangerous and addictive methamphetamine on our streets. This investigation, which culminated with the arrest of John Tai, will reduce the availability of methamphetamine and have a positive impact in our communities."

Each of the eight counts in the superseding indictment carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, with a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years. An indictment is merely an accusation, and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

ICE HSI and DEA received substantial assistance with this case from the Honolulu Police Department, the Sheriff Division of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Coast Guard. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Loo.