TULSA, Okla. — Representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) on Monday distributed more than $690,000 in asset-sharing funds to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO). These funds had been seized during an extensive international synthetic marijuana investigation conducted jointly by the HSI Tulsa Office, TCSO and Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Tulsa Office.
On May 1, HSI’s Assistant Director for Domestic Operations Tatum King presented a poster-size check to Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado at a news conference held at TCSO. This news conference was also attended by the following agency heads: Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger, HSI Dallas; Acting U.S. Attorney Loretta Radford, Northern District of Oklahoma; and Special Agent in Charge Tamera Cantu, IRS-CI.
The check for $690,320.23 represents TCSO’s share of monies and assets seized from one defendant in Operation MEGA BUZZ, which is divided among the participating agencies as part of ICE's asset-sharing agreement. HSI, TCSO, IRS-CI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office all contributed significantly to the investigation and subsequent federal prosecution. HSI, TCSO and IRS-CI conducted enforcement actions in eight cities across five states resulting in the federal indictment of 13 individuals involved in the smuggling and money laundering conspiracy.
In poetic-justice fashion, the seized monies from criminal enterprises are routinely distributed to the local law enforcement’s budgets so these agencies can continue to fund the expensive work of fighting crime and keeping our streets safe.
"HSI is a valued partner in the fight against drugs in Tulsa County," says Sheriff Vic Regalado. "This money will provide everything from training to equipment to help us make our community drug free."
“This case is an excellent example of the quality of prosecution that results when local and federal agencies work together to completely dismantle an extensive multi-state drug organization,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Loretta F. Radford. “The forfeitures resulting from this case will provide over two million dollars to continue law enforcement efforts attacking major drug traffickers.”
“IRS-CI is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the public and to dismantle the drug organizations that promote the use of these toxic chemicals for their own financial gain,” said Special Agent in Charge Tamera Cantu, Dallas Field Office of IRS-CI. “Citizens in the local community are the ultimate victims in a crime like this. Sharing seized funds with our local law enforcement partners, enables those partners to continue their tireless work in the war on drugs and helps keep our communities safe.”
Asset Forfeiture is a powerful tool used by ICE and other law enforcement agencies to seize assets used by criminal organizations in their illicit enterprises or acquired through criminal activity. Under the related equitable-sharing program, federal, state and local law enforcement partners and foreign governments working with ICE in joint investigations can be eligible to receive a portion of the proceeds of a federal forfeiture from the U.S. Department of Treasury Forfeiture Fund. Asset sharing fosters greater partnership and cooperation among agencies, and then allows these proceeds to be used by the receiving departments to fund programs and activities aimed at further disrupting criminal enterprises.
Summary of Operation MEGA BUZZ Investigation
In November 2012, HSI Tulsa, TCSO and IRS-CI initiated an investigation of an international narcotics smuggling and money laundering organization operated by Ban Lam and other coconspirators. Lam and his co-conspirator Tim Mihn Tran were smuggling chemicals used to manufacture synthetic marijuana into the United States from China. Tran owned and operated several companies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which he used to purchase, sell and distribute the chemicals. In July 2014, Tran was indicted for his role as a leader of a Money Laundering Conspiracy and a Conspiracy to Smuggle Synthetic Cannabinoids into the United States from China. Tran agreed to forfeit a 2007 Ferrari 599 which sold for $145,900 and an Isuzu box truck which, after forfeiture, was turned over to TCSO for law enforcement use. Tran also agreed to make three payments totaling $1.2 million in lieu of forfeiting two businesses and one residence he owned in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On March 4, 2016, Tran provided three cashier’s checks in the amounts of $1 million, $150,000 and $50,000. Tran forfeited a total amount of $1,345,900. The $690,320.23 check distributed to TCSO represents the asset sharing from the payments cited above, and the sale of Tran’s Ferrari.
To date, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Oklahoma has secured the federal indictment of 13 targets in this investigation on charges of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, Smuggling Merchandise into the United States, Money Laundering Conspiracy, and Aiding and Abetting. Eleven of the targets have pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. Nine defendants thus far have been sentenced to terms ranging from probation to 30 months federal prison. One defendant had charges dismissed. Two defendants remain to be sentenced, and one defendant remains at large.