WASHINGTON – Federal officials announced Tuesday, Oct. 17, that one Chinese national and eight others have been indicted in North Dakota as part of an international investigation into the trafficking of fentanyl and other potentially lethal drugs.
The announcement was made during a Department of Justice news conference in Washington attended by Christopher Myers, North Dakota’s U.S. attorney.
According to the announcement, the charges filed in federal court in North Dakota as well as a case in Mississippi mark the first time major Chinese fentanyl traffickers have been charged.
The North Dakota case involves Jian Zhang, 38, of China, who faces five federal charges, including conspiracy and money laundering counts.
Eight other North Dakota indictments announced involve defendants in Canada, Florida and New Jersey.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Chinese officials are cooperating in the investigation, but he declined to discuss whether Zhang and other suspects in China have been arrested or whether large drug production facilities that have been identified in China have been shut down.
“I’m not going to comment on enforcement work in China,” Rosenstein said, who added that the U.S. is hoping Chinese officials will take action and hold suspects accountable.
The North Dakota case announced Tuesday is part of an enforcement effort called “Operation Denial” that began with an investigation into a January 2015 overdose death in Grand Forks of Bailey Henke, who was 18.
Officials said Henke’s death was linked to a man in Oregon suspected of large-scale trafficking of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, involving the U.S., Canada and China.
Rosenstein said the trafficking involved shipping drugs, including synthetic opioids, from factories in China to Canada and ultimately to the U.S. through various mail and shipping outlets.