Feds Focus on Florida in Crackdown on Fentanyl Chemicals Shipped by Chinese Firms to U.S. and Mexico

On Tuesday, officials from the Justice Department disclosed a new strategy aimed at China-based companies and their employees. Eight indictments have been filed in Florida, accusing these entities of sending chemical components to Mexico and the United States. These chemicals are used in the production of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has been the primary cause of drug-related deaths in the U.S., claiming over 100,000 lives in a single year. This new approach is an extension of a U.S. government initiative started earlier this summer, which focuses on Chinese companies that provide fentanyl chemical “precursors” to other nations for the production of this lethal drug. Fentanyl is known to be 50 times more potent than heroin and can be fatal in doses as small as two milligrams.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, accompanied by top law enforcement officials, stated in a Washington, D.C. news conference that the global fentanyl supply chain often begins with chemical companies in China. The U.S. government is committed to dismantling each link in this chain, removing fentanyl from American communities, and prosecuting those responsible for its distribution.

This new focus on chemical suppliers represents a notable change in U.S. policy. Previously, the emphasis was on targeting the actual production of fentanyl and related substances in China. These were typically ordered online and then mailed to the U.S. In recent years, Beijing has started to crack down on fentanyl manufacturers operating in the black market. However, they are now criticized for their lax attitude toward the export of chemical ingredients to drug cartels in Mexico and traffickers in the United States.

The latest series of investigations, led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, and other federal agencies, has resulted in three indictments in South Florida and five in Central Florida. U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe, who is based in Miami, issued a statement indicating that this is just the beginning of a larger battle against these “powerful and potentially deadly cocktails of controlled substances.” Fentanyl is the leading cause of overdose deaths in Florida, with an average of about 3,000 fatalities over each of the past two years, far surpassing other narcotics like cocaine and heroin.

The indictments in South Florida have charged three Chinese companies and four individuals with various crimes, including fentanyl trafficking, synthetic opioid trafficking, and defrauding the U.S. Postal Service. Among those indicted are Hanhong Medicine Technology Company, a pharmaceutical firm located in Wuhan, Hubei Province, and Chinese nationals Changgen Du, 30, and Xuebi Gan, 28. They are accused of exporting large quantities of fentanyl chemicals and additives to drug traffickers in the United States and Mexico. Also indicted are Jiangsu Bangdeya New Material Technology Company, another pharmaceutical firm in Jiangsu, China, and its owner, Jiantong Wang, 40. They are accused of openly advertising online as an export company for fentanyl chemicals.

Another set of charges has been filed against Hubei Guanlang Biotechnology Company, a chemical company located in Shijaizhuang, Hebei Province, China, along with Chinese national Wei Zhang, 28. Wei Zhang is accused of operating the company and a cryptocurrency wallet that accepts payments for fentanyl precursors and opioid additives.

While China has cooperated with the U.S. on fentanyl-related issues in the past, relations between the two countries have become strained. In June, the Justice Department unsealed three indictments in New York against China-based companies and their employees for fentanyl-related crimes. Beijing officials responded by accusing the DEA of conducting a sting operation and “abducting” two Chinese citizens in Fiji, then bringing them to the U.S. for trial. This has led to a significant deterioration in U.S.-China counter-narcotics cooperation.

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