Two Chinese nationals face indictment after they masterminded fentanyl trafficking that killed at least two Ohioans, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday.
Father and son Guanghua and Fujing Zheng face charges for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to import controlled substances into the United States, operating a continued criminal enterprise, money laundering, and other crimes. The charges arise from the pair's drug trafficking, which reached at least 25 countries and 37 states with fentanyl analogues and 250 other drugs.
The Zhengs' trafficking led directly to the fatal overdose of Thomas Rauh, 37, and Carrie Dobbins, 23, both residents of Akron, Ohio. A shipment of acetyl fentanyl provided by the Zhengs to an Akron dealer was tied by DOJ to the deaths of Rauh and Dobbins.
"As detailed in this indictment, the trail from at least two dead bodies in Akron, Ohio, leads to the Zhengs," said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman, who oversaw the indictment. "This group has shipped deadly fentanyl analogues and other drugs around the globe for a decade. Law enforcement will follow the evidence wherever it leads, including overseas, to stop the flow of drugs that have caused so much heartbreak and destruction in Ohio."
The Zhengs ran their drug trafficking operation (DTO) through dozens of shell companies. Out of these pharmaceutical firms, they manufactured dozens of dangerous synthetic drugs, primarily fentanyl and its many analogues. They also set up numerous websites on which they advertised and sold drugs in 35 different languages.
The DTO took advantage of the highly malleable nature of synthetic drugs. The indictment notes that when the Chinese government would ban one fentanyl analogue, the Zhengs would simply switch to a different, chemically distinct but essentially the same, version of the drug. This approach allowed them to dodge Chinese export controls.
The firm also advertised its ability to bypass U.S. and European customs, promising a free re-shipping if their packages failed. Their success highlights the permeability of the U.S. mail, which is a major avenue for illicit drugs to enter the United States.
The Zhengs are just the latest Chinese drug traffickers to be indicted by the federal government. Earlier this month, a Massachusetts-based co-conspirator of theirs pleaded guilty to distributing fentanyl out of a warehouse in Woburn, Mass. And others still at large in China face charges brought in April and last October.
"Fentanyl and its analogues are the number one killer drug in America today, and most of them come from China," said Sessions. "That's why the Department of Justice under President Donald Trump has taken historic new steps against the threat of Chinese fentanyl. In October, we announced the first-ever indictments of Chinese nationals for fentanyl trafficking; 32 defendants have been charged in those cases."
The flow of Chinese fentanyl into the United States is directly related to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recent announcement that the country faced yet another year of increasing drug overdose deaths in 2017. Around 30,000 of those deaths were caused by fentanyl, making for roughly twice as many deaths as heroin, prescription opioids, and cocaine.
In addition to the Chinese indictments, Sessions announced the indictment of Matthew and Holly Roberts, U.S. citizens who collectively were "the most prolific dark net fentanyl vendor in the United States and the fourth most prolific in the world" at the time of their arrest in April. Five additional dark net drug vendors were also charged.
The Department of Justice did not specify if the Zhengs remain at large. It is unclear, additionally, whether the Chinese government will extradite them to face trial in the United States. If extradited and convicted, however, the pair would face life in prison.