Joint federal and local law enforcers arrested on Wednesday two overstaying male Chinese tourists after the seizure of over 10,700 grams of methamphetamine or “ice” worth between $3.2 million and $4.3 million that was concealed in an air-compressor in a container from Guangzhou, China.
Yuliu Liu, 36, and Zhenlin Fang, 24, were taken to federal court on Friday afternoon to face charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona set the preliminary and detention hearings for July 31 at 8:30am.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Garth Backe said Liu and Fang both entered Saipan as tourists and that they are now out of status. Attorneys Mark Hanson and Steven Pixley appeared as court-appointed counsels for the two.
Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force officer Raymond M. Renguul stated in his report that Customs inspectors recovered plastic packages of “ice” weighing approximately 23 lbs or 10,617 grams, while joint local and federal investigators seized 130 grams of “ice” from Liu’s residence in Chalan Piao during a follow-up operation.
With a street value of $300 to $400 a gram, the 10,747 grams of “ice” involved were estimated at $3,224,100 to $4,298,800, Saipan Tribune learned.
Renguul said that, on July 17, 2015, during a routine inspection of a shipping container arriving from Guangzhou, China, a CNMI Customs inspector noticed an air-compressor listed to a “Han Lu” that appeared to have been tampered with.
Using a fiber optic camera to look inside the tank, Customs inspectors saw a package containing a crystal-like substance, Renguul said.
A field test kit was then used to determine the contents and the results returned a presumptive positive for methamphetamine.
A drug detection dog also alerted inspectors to the presence of narcotics. The tank was opened and inspectors recovered a total of five square plastic packages of “ice” weighing approximately 23 lbs or 10,617 grams.
The tank was eventually resealed, and on July 21, the air compressor was transported along with the rest of the cargo to the Sunleader warehouse in As Terlaje Road, Saipan.
At the warehouse, investigators with the DEA, CNMI Customs, U.S. Homeland Security Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Public Safety, and CNMI Attorney General Investigation Unit placed the area under surveillance and waited for the person or persons who would pick up the shipment.
On the same day, investigators saw Fang arrive and meet with a Sunleader employee inside the warehouse. Fang then left the area after a couple of minutes and, afterwards, investigators learned that Fang had asked about the owner of the air compressor and how to use it.
Renguul said their surveillance continued the following day, July 22.
At 2pm on July 22, a Sunleader employee received a phone call from an unknown individual, who asked if the air compressor had arrived, and the employee told the caller to call back later.
A few minutes later, an unknown woman called the Sunleader employee and inquired about the air compressor. The employee told the woman that the air compressor was ready to be picked up.
Shortly, the employee received another call from an unknown woman advising the Sunleader employee that a man will be picking up the air compressor.
At 4:30pm, investigators saw a white Nissan Quest van driving toward the Sunleader warehouse.
Before the van arrived at the warehouse, investigators saw the van momentarily stop. Fang got out from the driver’s seat and walked to a grassy area. The passenger, Liu, moved into the driver’s seat and proceeded to the warehouse.
Investigators saw Sunleader employees meet with Liu and then load the air compressor, along with two additional boxes, into the rear compartment of the van.
Investigators further saw Liu handing money to a Sunleader employee and Liu receive paperwork in return.
Liu then drove away from the warehouse but stopped at the grassy area right before As Terlaje Road. Investigators saw Liu get down from the vehicle and get into the passenger side. At the same time, Fang entered the driver’s side of the van. Moments later, the van made a turn onto As Terlaje Road.
Investigators tracked the van, which immediately began to drive at inconsistent speeds as well as proceed circuitously through numerous residential and business areas.
Renguul said that based on his training and experience, drug traffickers often engage in such driving patterns as a means of detecting whether they are being followed by law enforcement.
When the van reached an area in Upper Navy Hill, investigators observed a piece of paper that had been set on fire being discarded from the driver’s side window of the van.
Investigators later examined the remnants of the burnt paper and observed markings consistent with a Sunleader receipt.
To prevent the additional destruction of evidence, investigators executed a vehicle stop, and Fang and Liu were arrested and taken into custody.
Inside the van, a large quantity of clear zip-lock baggies of varying sized was discovered in the front passenger’s side glove compartment.
A search of a bag found on Fang revealed a store’s receipt for nine bags for zip-lock bags in two different sizes. The receipt date was July 22, 2015, indicating that the purchase had occurred at 3:52pm that day.
With the assistance of a translator, investigators obtained consent from Liu to search Liu’s residence in Chalan Piao.
During the search, Renguul said investigators discovered about 130 grams of suspected “ice” packaged in a zip-lock baggie. A field test of the substance yielded a presumptive positive result for methamphetamine.
Investigators also discovered large quantities of clear plastic zip-lock baggies and a digital scale.
With the assistance of a translator, investigators obtained consent from Fang to search his residence on Upper Navy Hill. During the search, investigators discovered another digital scale, according to the DEA officer.