By a Biometrica staffer
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has bumped up to $5 million the reward for information that might lead to the apprehension of Jian Zhang, a man believed to be a key figure in illegal fentanyl trafficking in the U.S.
Zhang, a citizen of the People’s Republic of China, is the owner of Zaron Bio-Tech in Shandong Province, China. In the past, he has used the internet to advertise the sale of illicit controlled substances, according to the DEA. Zhang produced and sold fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in the US and Canada, according to a 2017 federal indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of North Dakota.
An operation by the DEA and Homeland Security Investigations found that Zhang’s organization, from early 2013 on, sent thousands of orders of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, other illicit drugs, pill presses, stamps, and dies used to shape fentanyl and fentanyl analogues into pills to customers in America through the mail or international parcel delivery services.
The consumption of these substances resulted in the overdose deaths of four individuals in North Dakota, Oregon, North Carolina, and New Jersey, as well as serious bodily injuries to five additional individuals.
“This investigation is an outstanding example of the commitment that DEA has to working with our domestic and international law enforcement partners to dismantle these drug trafficking organizations throughout the world, and emphasizes our dedication to keeping our communities safe and healthy,” said La Verne Hibbert, DEA Miami Field Division Acting Special Agent in Charge.
In Sept. 2017, Zhang, five Canadian citizens, two residents of Florida, and a resident of New Jersey were indicted for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in the U. S. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimated that in 2016 alone, 20,000 fatalities resulted from fentanyl consumption in the U. S.
The investigation conducted at the time revealed that fentanyl and fentanyl analogues were coming into the U. S. in numerous ways, including highly pure shipments of fentanyl from factories in China sent directly to U.S. customers who purchased it on the internet.
“This case began when local police officers responded to what has become an all-too familiar tragedy in the United States: the heroin and fentanyl overdose of two young adults, one who survived and another who did not,” said ICE Acting Deputy Director Edge back in 2017.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) identified Zhang as a Significant Foreign Narcotics Trafficker pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act).
Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of up to $1,466,485 per violation to more severe criminal penalties. The latter category for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $5 million. Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million.
As a result of Zhang being designated thus, any assets in which he or his organization had an interest in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons were mandated by law to be blocked and reported to OFAC.
Zhang is not the first Chinese national to be indicted in fentanyl related cases. In 2017, federal grand juries in the Southern District of Mississippi and the District of North Dakota returned indictments against Xiaobing Yan, who 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, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said. Yan monitored legislation and law enforcement activities in the United States and China, modifying the chemical structure of the fentanyl analogues he produced to evade prosecution in the United States.
Fentanyl is one of the most profitable and deadliest narcotics, responsible for killing more people than heroin and prescription pills, because of the high risk of overdosing on the potent substance, Bloomberg reported.
In July, the U.S. government reported that drug overdose deaths last year, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, soared nearly 30% to a record number of around 93,000. That’s a massive spike from 2019’s 72,000 drug overdose deaths, provisional data for 2020 published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows. Across the country, prescription painkillers once drove the drug overdose epidemic. But they were soon replaced, first by heroin and then by fentanyl, and in some states methamphetamine too.
A report by Congressional Research Service in Jan. 2021 found that fentanyl had killed more Americans in the preceding 12 months than any other opioid. The report also pressed China to impose domestic control on fentanyl analogues produced in the country for export.
Historically, more than $135m has been paid out by government agencies for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of wanted criminals, the Department of State, said.