Borderfoils Ecstasy smuggling operation

Published on Thu, Nov 4, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Border foils Ecstasy smuggling operation

By Jack Kintner

A Seattle couple driving a 1990 Infiniti sedan featuring a secret compartment electrically operated by the dome light switch was arrested last Sunday, October 24, at the border when Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) agents found the compartment filled with illicit drugs.

The couple, Tam Minh Nguyen, 45, and his wife Hoang Kim Vo, 40, were detained after attempting entry into the U.S. about 11 p.m. CPB agent Todd Hoyt referred them for secondary inspection, and as they filled out their declaration forms inside the port of entry building at the Peace Arch crossing, Hoyt discovered the secret compartment. When a fellow officer pried open the steel lid they found 29 bags containing over 60,000 pills and 15 grams of a “green leafy substance.”

The pills field tested as methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as “Ecstasy,” and the green leafy substance was verified as marijuana. CPB agents took the couple into custody and called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Nguyen, a naturalized American who immigrated from Vietnam in 1978, and Vo, a Vietnamese resident alien, have been married for 13 years and live in Seattle, where Nguyen works as an auto mechanic and body repair man. He told ICE special agent Eric Lehmann that he’s been “arrested and taken to jail” several times in the past for domestic violence.

After their latest argument two days earlier Vo drove to Vancouver in the Infiniti, a car she bought six months ago from the woman she was going to visit, Lan Nguyen. She said that she and her friend had visited several bars over the previous two days and that the Infinity was “only out of her sight when she was drunk,” according to Lehmann.

After two days of this she developed a headache and called her husband to drive up and take her home. He met his wife at a Vancouver gas station and because she was sick left his Acura Integra there and drove her in her car south. He maintained that he knew nothing about the secret compartment or the drugs.

Agents searching the couple’s home in Seattle found another 8,000 MDMA pills for a total of almost 50 pounds seized from the couple. The drugs have an estimated wholesale value of half a million dollars and a street value three times that amount.

The couple is in custody in Seattle under charges of conspiring to import MDMA.