CLEVELAND – While in Cleveland, Ohio, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday the unsealing of a 43-count indictment in federal court in Cleveland, which charges two Chinese citizens with operating a conspiracy that manufactured and shipped deadly fentanyl analogues and 250 other drugs to at least 25 countries and 37 states. The indictment also alleges the drugs sold by the group directly led to the fatal overdoses of two people in Akron, Ohio. The charges follow a joint investigation, which included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Fujing Zheng, aka Gordon Jin, 35, and his father Guanghua Zheng, 62, both of whom reside in Shanghai, China, are charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to import controlled substances into the United States, operating a continued criminal enterprise, money laundering and other crimes. The charges carry a potential sentence of life imprisonment because the drugs involved resulted in death, and the defendants’ conduct qualifies for an enhancement under the kingpin statute.
The indictment was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman for the Northern District of Ohio, Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Special Agent in Charge Timothy Plancon of DEA’s Detroit Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis HSI for Michigan and Ohio and Special Agent in Charge Ryan Korner of IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) Cincinnati Field Office.
“Fentanyl and its analogues are the number one killer drug in America today, and most of them come from China,” said Attorney General Sessions. “That’s why the Department of Justice under President Donald Trump has taken historic new steps against the threat of Chinese fentanyl. In October, we announced the first-ever indictments of Chinese nationals for fentanyl trafficking; 32 defendants have been charged in those cases. Today we are announcing an indictment of the leaders of the Zheng drug trafficking organization based in China, who the indictment alleges sold drugs that have killed at least two Ohioans. I want to thank U.S. Attorney Herdman and his fabulous Assistant U.S. Attorneys, our Criminal Division, DEA, FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, and IRS Criminal Investigation special agents and our Postal Inspectors for all of their hard work on this case. By cutting off fentanyl and its analogues at the source, we can save American lives.”
“As detailed in this indictment, the trail from at least two dead bodies in Akron, Ohio, leads to the Zhengs,” said U.S. Attorney Herdman. “This group has shipped deadly fentanyl analogues and other drugs around the globe for a decade. Law enforcement will follow the evidence wherever it leads, including overseas, to stop the flow of drugs that have caused so much heartbreak and destruction in Ohio.”
“DEA will relentlessly pursue anyone shipping deadly fentanyl analogues to the United States wherever they may be and bring them to justice,” said DEA Acting Administrator Dhillon. “These Chinese drug traffickers are directly responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens and we will hold them accountable in a U.S. court of law.”
“Today’s indictments, which include charges related to the defendants’ smuggling drug profits in and out of the United States, are a victory for the American public and a defeat to drug traffickers everywhere,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Korner. “The special agents of IRS Criminal Investigation continue in their mission to disrupt the flow of ill-gotten gains that are the life-blood for these criminals.”
According to the indictment:
The Zhengs and others used numerous companies, including Global United Biotechnology, Golden Chemicals, Golden RC, Cambridge Chemicals, Wonda Science, and others, to manufacture and distribute hundreds of controlled substances, including fentanyl analogues such as carfentanil, acetyl fentanyl, furanyl fentanyl, and others. They created and maintained numerous websites to advertise and sell illegal drugs in more than 35 languages.
From 2008 to the present, the Zheng drug trafficking organization (Zheng DTO) engaged in this conspiracy from its base of operations in Shanghai. The organization claimed to ship “over 16 tonnes of chemicals every month” from its “own laboratory” and to “synthesize nearly any chemical on a bespoke basis in any quantity.”
The Zheng DTO touted its ability to create custom-ordered drugs and avoid detection from customs and law enforcement when shipping the drugs. The Zheng DTO explained in emails and online that it had “special ways” to “go through customs safely” in “USA, Russia, Europe,” and other locations around the world. If customs still managed to seize the parcels, the DTO promised it would “re-ship free.”
The Zheng DTO used co-conspirators in other countries, including the United States, to receive, repackage, and redistribute the drug shipments, thereby hiding their Chinese origin. For example, it used companies run by Massachusetts-based co-conspirator Bin Wang to smuggle drugs past customs agents in China and the United States. Wang then shipped the drugs to customers across the country.
Wang has pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 13.
The Zheng DTO has sent millions of lethal doses of fentanyl analogues and other drugs linked to overdoses in the United States and around the world.
On Feb. 15, 2015, Akron, Ohio resident, Leroy Steele, emailed the Zheng DTO saying he “would like to purchase Acetyl fentanyl.” The Zheng DTO explained in its correspondence with Steele that it was “a professional acetyl fentanyl manufacturer in China” and that “a lot of U.S. and Europe customers purchase largely from us monthly.” The acetyl fentanyl that the Zheng DTO distributed to Steele resulted in the overdose deaths in Ohio of Thomas Rauh, 37, and Carrie Dobbins, 23, on or about March 21 and 28, 2015.
Steele was subsequently convicted of drug offenses and is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Despite the deadly consequences of its actions, the Zheng DTO continued manufacturing and distributing drugs. In 2015, it advertised that it delivered “to all 50 USA states” and “worldwide to Australia, Europe, Asia and Africa.”
When China would ban a synthetic narcotic, the Zheng DTO would use its chemical expertise to create an analogue of the drug with a slightly different chemical structure but the same or even more potent effect. In this manner, the DTO entirely bypassed China’s restrictions on international narcotics sales.
Last month, the Zheng DTO agreed to manufacture adulterated cancer medication, creating counterfeit pills that replaced the active cancer-fighting ingredient with dangerous synthetic drugs. It also created and shipped counterfeit Adderall pills that were adulterated with deadly bath salts.
The Zheng DTO laundered its drug proceeds by using digital currency such as Bitcoin, transmitted drug proceeds into and out of bank accounts in China and Hong Kong, and bypassed currency restrictions and reporting requirements.
If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the defendant's role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation. In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases it will be less than the maximum.
This investigation was conducted by the DEA, HSI, and IRS-CI. The following agencies assisted in the investigation: U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI, Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force, Special Operations Division, the Medway Drug Task Force, Akron Police Department, federal law enforcement on assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and federal law enforcement in the following districts: District of Massachusetts, Middle District of Florida, District of Colorado, District of Missouri, District of Minnesota and Western District of Texas. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security provided assistance during the course of the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Cronin of the Northern District of Ohio and Justice Department Criminal Division Trial Attorneys Adrienne Rose of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Deputy Unit Chief Stephen Sola of the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.