The Department of Justice announced a series of indictments Tuesday morning against Chinese nationals who have been trafficking fentanyl, the potent drug at the center of the opioid crisis, into the United States. The indictments are the first of their kind and were returned by grand juries in Mississippi, Oregon and North Dakota.
"We are pleased to announce two indictments that mark a major milestone in our battle to stop deadly fentanyl from entering the United States. For the first time, we have indicted major Chinese fentanyl traffickers who have been using the Internet to sell fentanyl and fentanyl analogues to drug traffickers and individual customers in the United States," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced in a speech.
According to the Justice Department, Xiaobing Yan and Jian Zhang worked with Canadian nationals and U.S. citizens living in Florida and New Jersey to traffic the drug. Twenty-one people in total are facing serious charges, but Yan and Zhang are the centerpiece of the investigation.
"Yan, a distributor of a multitude of illegal drugs, used different names and company identities over a period of at least six years and operated websites selling acetyl fentanyl and other deadly fentanyl analogues directly to U.S. customers in multiple cities across the country. Yan also operated at least two chemical plants in China that were capable of producing ton quantities of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues," the DOJ release states. "Over the course of the investigation, federal agents identified more than 100 distributors of synthetic opioids involved with Yan’s manufacturing and distribution networks."
Agents from the Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Border Patrol, IRS, U.S. Postal Service and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security were all involved in building the case.
The Trump administration has vowed to take on the opioid crisis as a major priority.
"The defendants allegedly shipped massive quantities of deadly fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to communities throughout the United States, mostly purchased on the Internet and sent through the mail," Rosenstein said. "The chemicals allegedly killed and injured people in several states, and surely caused misery to many thousands of people. Under the leadership of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, we are taking back our communities by pursuing suppliers of deadly drugs wherever they are located."