Federal prosecutors this morning moved to dismiss charges against a foreign national accused in the United States of a massive drug manufacturing and import conspiracy in which Mexican law enforcement agents seized more than $205 million.
Authorities arrested Zhenli Ye Gon in Maryland in July 2007, and a grand jury indicted him on conspiracy to aid and abet the manufacture of 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Trial is scheduled for September.
Today, Justice Department trial attorneys moved to dismiss the indictment in addition to a forfeiture complaint, deferring to a separate prosecution in Mexico. In the government’s motion to dismiss, prosecutors cited “evidentiary concerns” in the Ye Gon case: one key witness has recanted statements, and another witness has expressed an unwillingness to testify. A copy of the motion is here.
Lawyers for Ye Gon heralded the Justice Department move and vowed to challenge extradition.
“We’re obviously very pleased. This was an enormous case against him,” said Manuel Retureta of D.C.’s Retureta & Wassem. In a statement, Retureta said the “government’s motion clearly shows that federal charges against Mr. Ye Gon should never have been filed. Unfortunately, it took two years for the government of the United States to reach that conclusion."
Karen Tandy, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, last year called Ye Gon in a statement “not only the man behind the money, but the man behind the meth. He may never have touched the drugs, but he made it all possible, facilitating the massive meth trade by brokering chemicals to kingpins.”
Last June, Mexico requested extradition of Ye Gon. Magistrate Judge John Facciola of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has not ruled on the extradition complaint. A hearing is scheduled for August. Ye Gon is charged in Mexico with organized crime, importation of and manufacture of psychotropic chemicals. Mexican authorities issued an arrest warrant in June 2007.
“The prosecution of this case in Mexico is of considerable public interest and is important to Mexico’s counter-narcotics policy,” Paul Laymon, a trial attorney in Justice’s Criminal Division, wrote in today’s five-page motion to dismiss. “The case has been cited by Mexican President Felipe Calderon as a major development in Mexico’s war on drug traffickers.”
Laymon said much of the evidence and many of the witnesses in the U.S. case are from Mexico. The seizure of $205 million following a raid in Mexico City, the prosecutor said, is believed to be one of the largest seizures of “illicit drug proceeds” in law enforcement history.
“The government believes the interests of justice and the United States’ ongoing collaborative efforts with the government of Mexico to combat drug trafficking are best served by giving precedence to the Mexican prosecution,” Laymon wrote.
If Mexico does not move forward on prosecution, Laymon wrote, the Justice Department “would have a compelling interest to reinstitute prosecution.” The department has asked that charges be dismissed without prejudice.