Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Alleged drug trafficker arrested at Wheaton mall

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U.S. federal agents Monday night arrested an alleged Chinese-Mexican drug trafficker in Wheaton four months after more than $200 million was found in his Mexico City mansion.

Zhenli Ye Gon was eating at the PJ Rice Bistro in Westfield Wheaton when he was captured by Drug Enforcement Agency officials, DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said. Ye Gon was arraigned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on charges of drug smuggling and money laundering, Courtney said. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, he said.

A man answering the phone at PJ Rice Bistro on Tuesday declined to comment on what happened at the restaurant Monday night.

It is unclear why Ye Gon was in Montgomery County, but it is believed he was meeting with his lawyers, Courtney said. Ye Gon’s two American lawyers have offices in Washington, D.C., based on information from published reports. Federal agents had been looking for Ye Gon for a month, Courtney added.

The Mexican Attorney General’s office has accused Ye Gon and his company, Unimed Pharm Chem de México, of illegally bringing more than 60 tons of pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in methamphetamines, into the country. Ye Gon is wanted in Mexico on organized crime, drug trafficking and weapons charges.

Charging documents filed against Ye Gon in Washington estimate he produced more than 40 tons of methamphetamines worth $724 million.

In a March raid of Ye Gon’s Mexico City mansion, Mexican federal agents found $207 million, which they claimed was from illegal pseudoephedrine transactions with Chinese businesses. U.S. officials called the drug cash seizure the single largest ever recorded.

Mexican officials have asked that Ye Gon be extradited to Mexico. U.S. officials are aware of the extradition request and talks are ongoing, Courtney said.