An Ocean Springs traffic stop and a Gulfport police officer’s task force work led to the nation’s first ever indictment of an international drug trafficking manufacturer in China, a federal official said Thursday.
Xiaobing Yan, 40, is accused of manufacturing fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, often called designer drugs, and selling them on the Internet and through more than 100 distributors around the nation, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst Jr. of the Southern District of Mississippi said in a news conference in Gulfport.
A federal indictment unsealed Monday alleges Yan and one of his companies, 9W Technology Ltd., are considered by the DEA to be one of the most significant drug trafficking threats in the world, Hurst said.
Yan operated multiple Internet websites used to take orders and ship them directly to customers in cities across the country, he said. Yan also reportedly used different names and different company names.
The deadly drugs are claiming an increasing number of lives through drug overdoses, in part, because people who use the illegal substances don’t realize just how strong they are, Hurst said.
The traffic stop originally led to the prosecution of a former Gulfport woman and a Connecticut man in federal court in Gulfport. The woman was found distributing spice and designer drugs that appeared to be bath salts in Jackson County on March 20, 2013. She was distributing the drugs again the next day in Harrison County.
Court records show the drugs included fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, including alpha-PVP, known as Flakka or Gravel and commonly referred to as the zombie drug because of the bizarre behavior it causes.
A Gulfport police officer assigned to the DEA’s High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area kept investigating and found the woman’s supplier was a man from Bridgeport, Connecticut. Further investigation linked the supplies to Yan’s company, Hurst said.
“This case exemplifies what can be accomplished when one determined police officer gets a case and will not let go of it until he gets to the very top of the ladder,” he said.
In that 2013 case, Rasheed Ali Muhammad of Connecticut was sentenced to 120 years in prison in 2015. He also was ordered to pay the United Parcel Service more than $120,000 for shipment services. Roslyn Demetrius Chapman, who had moved from Gulfport to California, was sentenced to 16 1/2 years in prison.
The drugs are a scourge, Hurst said, pointing to the latest available national drug overdose numbers.
Drug overdoses in 2016 in America killed 64,000 people, a 22 percent increase over the year before, he said. Almost 20,000 of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl-related.
Three years earlier, there were 3,000 synthetic opioid deaths, which means there’s been a 540-percent increase, Hurst said.
“These aren’t just statistics and numbers,” he said.
“These are real people and real families whose lives have been permanently and adversely affected by this deadly scourge.”
Coast has most deaths
From January through September, Mississippi had 41 drug overdoses and most of those were from synthetic opioids, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy said.
“The Coast is the killing ground for illegal narcotics,” Dody said.
“We’ve had more overdose deaths in the six coastal counties this year than any other metropolitan area in the state, and most are fentanyl- and heroin-related.”
Harrison, Jackson, George and Pearl River counties have more overdose deaths than any of the state’s metropolitan regions.
Most of the synthetic opioids found in the U.S. come from China, and the coastal area seems to have a larger problem because of its proximity to New Orleans, Dowdy said.
What makes fentanyl and its analogues so deadly, officials said, is that many people who use them don’t realize how strong they are.
“You take a sweetener packet,” Dowdy said. “Those packets of fentanyl can kill 400 people, just in that packet.”
The investigation revealed that Yan, for at least six years, had operated at least two plants capable of producing “tons and tons” of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, Hurst said.
When the DEA sees designer drugs, officials declare the analogues illegal.
“Yan monitored legislation in the U.S. and in China, modifying the chemical structure of fentanyl analogues to avoid prosecution in the U.S,” Hurst said.
There is no extradition treaty with China, but the Justice Department is working with China on the allegations against Yan, he said.
The indictment alleges Yan shipped fentanyl and fentanyl analogues to Harrison County seven times.
Hurst and Derryle Smith, resident agent in charge of the DEA in Gulfport, said some of the shipments to Harrison County were ordered by individuals and some were ordered by investigators.
Hurst commended Assistant U.S. Attorney John Meynardie, chief of the organized crime and drug task force division in Gulfport and prosecutor in the 2013 case and Yan’s case.
He also credited local, state and federal law enforcement agencies for their cooperation and coordination.
Several representatives of those agencies flanked him at the news conference.
“The men you see behind me today work tirelessly behind the scenes,” Hurst said.
“These are the real heroes and it is to them we owe a huge debt of gratitude.”