U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents arrested on Monday three Chinese nationals implicated in the CNMI Division of Customs’ seizure of 4.9 lbs of methamphetamine or “ice” worth $850,000 last Dec. 2.
U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona issued Monday the warrants for the arrest of Xi Huang, Shicheng Cai, and Zhaopeng Chen, all Chinese male nationals.
DEA served the arrest warrants on the three suspects that same day. The three were taken to the federal court for their initial court appearance late Monday afternoon.
According to the minutes of the hearing, Assistant U.S. attorney Garth Backe stated in court that the U.S. government’s intention was to seal only the complaint in the case and that any subsequent filings would not be sealed. Manglona granted Backe’s request.
Manglona advised the defendants of their constitutional rights and of the charges against them.
Backe sought the suspects’ continued detention, citing the nature of the offense and their being flight risks.
Manglona set the detention hearing for Thursday, Dec. 10, at 11am and the preliminary hearing for Monday, Dec. 21, at 9am.
The suspects were advised that they may notify the consulate of their country of their arrest.
Backe stated that the U.S. government was working on notifying the China Consulate of the arrests.
Manglona had the passports of the suspects seized and remanded them to the custody of the U.S. Marshal.
Robert T. Torres, Mark Hanson, and David Banes appeared at the hearing as court-appointed counsels for Huang, Cai, and Chen, respectively.
At a press conference on Monday, CNMI Customs director Jose Mafnas disclosed that the recovery of the 4.9 lbs of “ice” happened during a routine inspection at the Port of Saipan last Dec. 2.
Mafnas said Customs inspected a 40-foot container from Guangzhou, China, that had several consignees and was brought in by Sunleader, a cargo consolidating company on Saipan.
One of the consignees reportedly brought in nine 5-gallon paint containers, and one was found to have three plastic bags that contained the illegal substance. The contents of the bags were field-tested and found presumptive positive for “ice,” Mafnas said.
Customs immediately alerted other local and federal law enforcement agencies, including DEA.
Last July 17, a Customs inspector detected “ice” in an air compressor in a container from Guangzhou, China, at the seaport warehouse that led to the arrest of two Chinese nationals, Yuliu Liu and Zhenlin Fang, on July 22.
Sunleader also brought in that container.
In that operation, authorities seized 23 lbs of “ice” worth between $3.2 million and $4.3 million, the biggest drug bust in CNMI history. The case against them is pending in federal court.