WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The Customs Service, after a yearlong investigation, has cracked an international smuggling ring that it says brought into the United States an estimated 9 million tablets of the hallucinogenic drug ecstasy.
``Through painstaking work, Customs investigators were ultimately able to arrest the accused ringleader and bring down a huge ecstasy trafficking syndicate,'' U.S. Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday.
Kelly said 25 people have been arrested in connection with the smuggling organization, including accused ringleader Jacob Orgad, an Israeli emigre who operated in Los Angeles, New York and Europe, Customs said in a statement.
Orgad was arrested by Customs agents in New York on April 7 and is accused of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to import and distribute narcotics and other violations, the agency said.
Customs spokesman Dean Boyd said the 24 other people have been arrested in a variety of locations including Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Paris, France, over the last three months.
Spearheaded by Customs, the investigation is called ``Operation Paris Express.'' To date, the investigation has resulted in Customs, the Drug Enforcement Administration and French authorities seizing nearly 650,000 tables of ecstasy. Those tablets are estimated to have a retail value of $19.5 million, Customs said.
Three BMW cars, two handguns and more than $170,000 in U.S. currency also were seized during the operation.
In terms of the 9 million tablets the organization is estimated to have smuggled into the United States, ``the targeted organization represents the largest ecstasy trafficking syndicate that Customs has dismantled to date,'' the agency said in its release.
The case began in July 1999 when Customs inspectors in Los Angeles intercepted three women arriving from Paris with a total of 140,000 ecstasy pills in boxes of toys and false compartments of their luggage, Customs said.
Customs has been beefing up its enforcement in this area as record amounts of the drug flow into the United States. Since Oct. 1, Customs has seized nearly 6 million doses of ecstasy. For all of fiscal year 1999, it seized 3.5 million.
Ecstasy is chemically known as MDMA for Methylenedioxymethylamphetamine. Users normally experience feelings of euphoria and an increased desire to interact socially. Blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature increase dramatically.
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