HOUSTON — A Nigerian man who recruited college students in Nigeria to transport heroin into the United States has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import a controlled substance, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.
The investigation leading up to the charges was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The investigation into Koyode Lawrence, aka "Papa," 45, of Lagos, Nigeria began in February 2001 following the arrests of two men at Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) who attempted to internally smuggle 1,498 grams of heroin into the United States from Nigeria. Both men were determined to be working for Lawrence.
Lawrence headed the organization in which couriers would swallow heroin-filled pellets in Nigeria, enter the United States and expel the pellets upon arrival at their final destination.
Lawrence recruited carriers who had dual U.S. and Nigerian citizenship because Lawrence believed them to be less suspicious. Generally, most were born in the United States when their parents were attending school and moved back to Nigeria while still children. Most of the carriers were recruited while attending college in Nigeria.
Individuals called "strikers" recruited potential couriers and brought them to Lawrence's house in Lagos, where they were tested for their internal smuggling ability. Some of the couriers required extensive training to develop the ability to swallow between 700 and 800 grams of heroin-filled pellets at a time. The couriers were paid between $6,000 and $15,000 per trip.
Lawrence accompanied carriers to a hotel in Ghana where they were given the heroin pellets to swallow. The carriers usually then flew from Ghana to Amsterdam and then to an international airport in the United States, frequently arriving at IAH. Upon arrival, they were met by a manager who would escort them back to an apartment in Chicago, where they were instructed to expel the pellets. Carriers would often stay in Chicago for several days until arrangements could be made for their return.
Between March 2000 and November 2002, 14 heroin arrests were subsequently linked to Lawrence, with multiple historical runs further attributed to him. Throughout the conspiracy, the Lawrence organization is responsible for importing at least 29 kilograms of heroin into the United States from Nigeria.
Lawrence fought his extradition from Nigeria for nearly 10 years and was finally brought to the United States in the latter part of 2013.
U.S. District Judge Nancy F. Atlas accepted the plea Wednesday and set sentencing for July 9, at which time Lawrence faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and up to life imprisonment, as well as a potential $5 million fine. He will remain in custody pending that hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart A. Burns, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.