GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - "Extraordinary cooperation" between federal and local investigators and "good, old-fashioned police work" are being cited as the top reasons South Mississippi is at the center of an international drug trafficking investigation.
US Attorney for the Southern District Mike Hurst held a news conference in Gulfport Thursday to further explain how a traffic stop in Ocean Springs led investigators to at least two chemical plants in China capable of producing tons of deadly fentanyl and fentanyl analogues.
"This is the first time ever in our nation's history that a Chinese national has been criminally indicted while being designated as a Consolidated Priority Organization Target by the DEA, or CPOT, for crimes relating to the manufacturing and distribution of some of the deadliest drugs in the world."
CPOT designations are those who have "command and control" elements of the most prolific international drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.
"These organizations are considered by DEA to be the most significant drug trafficking threats in the world," Hurst explained.
Tuesday, federal investigators announced that 40-year-old Xiaobing Yan, of China, was indicted in the Southern District of Mississippi on two counts of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute multiple controlled substances, and seven counts of manufacturing and distributing the drugs in specific instances.
Yan is accused of shipping massive quantities of deadly fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to communities throughout the United States, mostly purchased on the Internet and sent through the mail. The chemicals allegedly killed and injured people in several states.
But the initial traffic stop that sparked the investigation didn't involve fentanyal at all, but rather spice and bath salts. But something about the case didn't sit right with Gulf Coast investigators.
"Sometimes you have a Spice bust, and you prosecute the spice bust, and move on to the next bust. These guys, because of their unrelenting nature, followed it all the way back to China and, I guess, figured out it was fentanyal," Hurst said, describing the Gulf Coast investigators. "These guys are the pit bulls of investigation and prosecution. And they're not going to stop until we get to the source of the illegal drugs."
Hurst went on to specifically name several of the officers involved in the investigations, including:
- Gulfport Police Officer Adam Gibbons
- DEA Analyst John Metcalf
- MBN's Mike Mitchell
- Jason Gazzo with the MS Highway Patrol
- Carl Winter with the D'Iberville Police Dept.
- DEA supervisors Darryl Smith and Danny Comeaux
"It's kind of corny to say, but it's good old-fashioned police work," said DEA's Resident Agent-in-Charge Darryl Smith. "These agents did not give up. They saw an opportunity and the ladder just kept getting higher and higher. And once they got to one rung of the ladder, they said, okay, we need to go higher. So they just kept taking it until we ended up in China."
The case against Yan is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Meynardie in the Southern District of Mississippi. If convicted, he faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison, a $1 million fine, and three years of supervised release.