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 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. hopes 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 years old.
In that case, Brandon Corde Hubbard, 40, of Portland, Ore., faced charges that included conspiracy to distribute controlled substances resulting in serious bodily injury or death. Hubbard was ultimately sentenced to life in prison.
Five individuals from the Grand Forks area were also convicted in federal court in connection with Henke’s death, with sentences ranging from three years to 20 years in prison.
Rosenstein said the trafficking targeted by Operation Denial involved shipping drugs, including synthetic opioids, from factories in China to Canada and ultimately to the U.S. through various mail and shipping outlets.