“ICE” weighing a total of 23 pounds, or 10,617 grams, with an estimated street value of over $4 million, was seized by the CNMI Division of Customs Services following a routine inspection of a newly arrived container from Guangzhou, China on July 17, 2015. It was the CNMI government’s biggest haul of methamphetamine in recent years.
The “ice” was inside an air compressor which was among the items included in the container shipment. Days later, two men were taken into custody by federal and local law enforcement officers after retrieving the air compressor at the Sunleader company warehouse in As Terlaje. The current street value for a gram of “ice” is $400 with purity levels between 95.9 and 99.1 percent.
On late Friday afternoon, Zhenlin Fang and Yuliu Liu, who are both from Fujian province in China, were escorted by U.S. Marshals for their initial appearance before District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona who informed them of a July 24, 2015 criminal complaint against them involving one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.
The judge was told that Fang and Liu are out of immigration status, and that they entered the Northern Marianas separately as tourists. They were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals after the court hearing.
Fang, born in 1991, resides on Navy Hill, while Liu, born in 1979, lives in Chalan Piao. They were separately arrested in the Lower Base area on July 22, 2015.
The judge scheduled for July 31, 2015 the defendants’ preliminary hearing and allowed for detention of the defendants pending trial which was requested by the federal government.
Court-appointed defense attorneys Steve Pixley and Mark Hanson appeared on behalf of the defendants along with a translator.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Garth Backe represented the federal government. Joining him at the defense table was CNMI Division of Customs Services Officer Raymond M. Renguul, a task force officer with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and special agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security-Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to court records, on July 17, during a routine inspection of a shipping arriving from Guangzhou, a CNMI Customs inspector noticed an air compressor, which was listed to “Han Lu,” and appeared to have been tampered with, specifically it’s post-fabrication welding.
CNMI Division of Customs inspectors used a fiber optic camera to look inside the tank, and saw a package containing a crystal-like substance. A field test kit was used to determine the content and the results returned a presumptive positive for methamphetamine. A drug-detention dog also alerted to the presence of narcotics.
The tank was opened and Customs inspectors recovered a five square-sized plastic packages, weighing approximately 23 pounds, or 10,617 grams.
On July 21, 2015, the air compressor and the tank were resealed and transported along with the rest of the cargo to the Sunleader company warehouse in As Terlaje where special agents from DEA, CNMI Division of Customs, U.S. Homeland Security, the FBI, CNMI Department of Public Safety, and the CNMI Attorney General’s Office Investigation Unit were deployed.
On the same day, Fang arrived and met with a Sunleader company employee inside the warehouse.
Fang left the area after a couple of minutes and, afterward, investigators learned that Fang had asked about the owner of the air compressor and also how to use it.
Federal and local law enforcement officers continued their surveillance. On July 22, at 2 p.m., a Sunleader company staffer received a phone call from an unknown individual who inquired if the air compressor had arrived. The staffer informed the caller that the staffer would check and call back later.
A few minutes later, a woman called the staffer and inquired about the air compressor. The staffer told the female caller that the air compressor was ready to be picked up. The employee received another call from a woman advising the Sunleader company staffer that a man would be coming to pick up the air compressor.
At 4:30 p.m., outside the warehouse, a white Nissan Quest van briefly stopped, and Fang exited from the driver’s door, and walked to a grassy area. The passenger, Liu, then moved into the driver’s seat, and drove the vehicle to the Sunleader company warehouse, where staffers met with Liu. Afterward, they loaded the air compressor along with two additional boxes, into the rear compartment of the van. Liu handed money to a Sunleader company staffer and received paperwork in return.
Liu then drove away from the warehouse but stopped in the grassy area right before As Terlaje Road where Liu was seen exiting the vehicle, walking to and entering the passenger side. At the same time, Fang exited the grassy area and entered the driver’s door of the van then continued driving onto As Terlaje Road.
Law enforcement officers tracking the van observed that the vehicle was moving at inconsistent speeds and proceeded circuitously through numerous residential and business areas which was described by Renguul as driving patterns by drug traffickers as a means of detecting whether they were being followed by law enforcement.
When the van reached an area on Navy Hill, law enforcers observed a burning piece of paper being discarded from the driver’s side window of the van. The piece of paper burnt had markings consistent with a Sunleader company receipt.
“To prevent the additional destruction of evidence, investigators executed a vehicle stop, and Fang and Liu were arrested and taken into custody,” Renguul told the federal court.
Inside the vehicle, a large quantity of clear Ziploc bags of different sizes were discovered in the front passenger’s side glove compartment.
A search of a bag found on Fang’s person revealed a receipt for plastic Ziploc bags which were purchased also on July 22, 2015, at 3:52 p.m.
Renguul told the court that the Ziploc bags were being used to distribute “ice.”
Liu allowed federal and local authorities to search his residence on Chalan Piao where 130 grams of crystalline substance in a Ziploc bag was found along with several pieces of empty Ziploc bags and a digital weighing scale. When tested, the crystalline substance seized from Liu’s residence yielded presumptive positive for methamphetamine.
Federal and local authorities, after securing consent from Fang, discovered another digital weighing scale from Fang’s residence on Navy Hill.
Variety tried but failed to get a comment from Sunleader company.
Acting Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres on early Saturday evening congratulated local and federal law enforcement agencies.
“We do have an [ice] issue on our islands so I would like to congratulate our law enforcement agencies which are in the forefront of this crackdown,” he said, adding that 23 pounds of “ice” have taken “off our streets.”
“This is a strong message to those who are bringing in such illegal drugs — they will not be tolerated by the administration, and we’re doing everything that we can in order to continue the crackdown on ice trafficking.”
Torres said he is asking “everyone in the community to help and participate in addressing this [ice] issue. If you hear or see it, let’s take action as a community against ice.”