A federal magistrate judge in Washington denied bail yesterday to Zhenli Ye Gon, who is awaiting extradition to face charges in Mexico related to a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy after the U.S. case against him collapsed.
Magistrate Judge John Facciola said Ye Gon, jailed since his arrest in Maryland in July 2007, is a flight risk. Ye Gon is a native of China and a naturalized citizen of Mexico.
In denying bail, Facciola noted that authorities in Mexico, working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, found more than $200 million in Ye Gon’s house in Mexico City. Ye Gon said the money was not profit from alleged drug sales but rather cash from a political slush fund that he was asked to hold.
“An individual who had in excess of 200 million U.S. dollars in cash secreted in his home is someone who clearly possesses the means and motive to flee this jurisdiction and thus presents a clear risk of flight,” Facciola said. (At left, a photo of the cash provided courtesy of the DEA.)
The Justice Department and the DEA had heralded the arrest and prosecution of Ye Gon as a victory in the fight against international drug trafficking. But prosecutors this year abandoned the case, citing evidentiary concerns and Mexico’s interest in prosecuting Ye Gon. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed the indictment with prejudice in August.
Ye Gon’s lawyers, Manuel Retureta and A. Eduardo Balarezo, are fighting extradition and recently asked that their client be released on bail pending the outcome of the extradition litigation. The lawyers argue that bail is justified due to special circumstances including the length of time that Ye Gon has been jailed. Ye Gon has been held in “extremely harsh solitary confinement” for more than two years, Balarezo and Retureta said.
Facciola said that nobody, including Sullivan, has said that the prosecution of Ye Gon was without merit or initiated by “some evil ulterior motive.”
Today, Ye Gon’s lawyers filed court papers urging Facciola to reconsider his decision denying bail. The lawyers said in court papers that Facciola ruled before the defense had filed its supplemental opposition to the government's request that Ye Gon be held pending extradition. The defense said it had until today to file that opposition.