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Final defendant in international drug trafficking ring sentenced to prison

Ring forfeited more than $4 million in illicit drug proceeds

PORTLAND, Ore. - The last of five defendants involved in smuggling large quantities of ephedrine from India into the United States was sentenced in federal court on Thursday to 54 months in prison. This sentencing was the result of an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

On Thursday, Subhash Nathani, 40, of Noida, India, joined four recently sentenced codefendants - all of whom were convicted of conspiracy to illegally import and distribute ephedrine, the main precursor chemical used in the production of methamphetamine.

HSI and IRS agents began investigating the ring in 2008 for suspicious banking activity and for smuggling liquid ephedrine disguised as "green tea extract" into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport from India. The investigation revealed that Gonzalez, a licensed U.S. customs broker, and Payton, illegally imported more than 50 shipments of mislabeled ephedrine products from India into the U.S. The products were then sent to Gonzalez in the San Diego area for exportation to methamphetamine manufacturers in Mexico, who in turn would send them back to the U.S.

In November 2009, all five defendants were arrested in Las Vegas, Nev., where they were attending an international chemical extract conference. Search warrants were executed in Las Vegas, Forest Grove, and San Diego following their arrests.

"These sentencings illustrate that greedy drug smugglers will ultimately pay a high price for their crimes," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Seattle. "Methamphetamine is a vicious drug that destroys lives and ruins communities, and by bringing significant quantities of its dangerous precursor into our midst, the defendants seriously compromised the public's safety and well-being. By sharing information and resources and following the money trail, HSI and its law enforcement partners have successfully dismantled this criminal organization's heinous activities."

"There were over 100 methamphetamine-related deaths last year in Oregon alone," said Marcus Williams, the IRS special agent in charge of the Pacific Northwest. "Prosecutions like this one are critical to stem the tide of pain and suffering that this drug brings. It took a financial investigation and good old fashioned police work to bring these defendants to justice."

This Oregon-based investigation spawned similar ephedrine importation conspiracy investigations around the nation as federal agents detected various ways foreign nationals were working with U.S. citizens to circumvent strict ephedrine bans in both the United States and Mexico.

HSI and IRS agents were assisted in this investigation by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Drugs and Vice Division of the Portland Police Bureau. This case was also investigated by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program.