CNMI - A Back Door for Trafficking

February 24, 2008

The CNMI had been called a "back door" to the United States. Because of the lax immigration, quarantine, and customs laws there is less accountability and more opportunity to smuggle and transport illegal drugs, substances, and people. A Guam and CNMI Security Report issued by the US Attorney Office for Guam and Northern Marianas states:

"On Guam and in the CNMI, the most common illegal activities are public corruption, the importation and sale of crystal methamphetamine or "Ice," and immigration crimes. These criminal activities take on entirely unique perspectives when viewed against a background in which the Federal government has no jurisdiction for immigration and customs control and the local agencies that do are susceptible to corruption and influence from within their territorial governments. Considering the breadth and scope of criminal activity and the vast array of obstacles and impediments which they face daily, the Federal law enforcement agencies are doing an extremely creditable job with limited assets. However, most of the Federal officials interviewed on Guam and in the CNMI, expressed genuine concern that their efforts will not be able to keep pace with the growing degree and complexity of criminal activity; given the restrictive and disadvantaged environment in which each must operate."

The report details smuggling schemes allowed through immigration loopholes and mismanagement, illegal immigration in the CNMI, and criminal activity. The report states:

"Individuals belonging to the Chinese triad gangs, Japanese Yakuza, Russian Mafia, and Korean Mafia organizations each participate to some degree in the criminal activity of the islands. Gambling, prostitution, drugs, money laundering and the exploitation of the large segments of the alien population are fully orchestrated by these organizations. Because of the Covenant provisions allowing the territorial government to regulate immigration and customs, Federal authorities cannot prevent entry and must therefore adopt a reactive approach. This greatly taxes meager Federal assets and creates an environment in which organized crime can flourish."

The security report wasn't the only source that indicated organized crime is involved in the drug trafficking. A 2001 Saipan Tribune article, Int'l gangsters behind rising crimes in CNMI: Police investigation point to growing presence of Yakuza, Triad on island, states:

"Police yesterday expressed concern on the increasing crime incidents on the island which they said was a result of the growing presence of international organized crime groups in the Northern Marianas.

Investigation conducted by the police revealed that the Chinese Triad and the Japanese Yakuza have slowly established their businesses in the tourist district on Saipan.

"We have information that some Yakuza members are back and have opened up businesses in narcotics and firearms," said Capt. Delbert Sablan. Triad’s main criminal activities include extortion, drug-handling, loan sharking, guns and prostitution, he said."

Every week the local Saipan papers report on the latest "ice trafficking" arrest. Crystal methamphetamine, "ice", has been imported into the CNMI for decades. Case in point, Today's Variety has two articles Man in ‘ice’ case posts $50K bond and Woman in ‘ice’ case to leave NMI. The last article details how a Chinese national will"depart the CNMI voluntarily at her own expense within a month.

"Xia Tang was charged with two counts of trafficking of a controlled substance on Oct. 4, 2007, and three counts of illegal possession of a controlled substance on Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, 2007."

A 2005 story alleges that the CNMI and Guam are transshipment points for methamphetamine hydrochloride and links the activity to a terrorist group in the Philippines. The March 18, 2005, Saipan Tribune story states:

"Saipan and Guam remain as major transshipment points for methamphetamine hydrochloride in the international illegal drug trade, particularly those exported from the Philippines and Hong Kong, with commercial air couriers and express mail services serving as a primary means of shipment...

...“The Abu Sayyaf Group, a U.S. and UN-designated foreign terrorist organization operating in extreme southwest Philippines, collects money from drug smugglers by acting as protectors for foreign trafficking syndicates,” the report said.

Sometime last month, CNMI operatives seized some 86.4 grams of methamphetamine hydrochloride from a Saipan apartment where a Chinese tourist and his alleged girlfriend were staying, in what authorities consider as one of the biggest drug busts in the CNMI.

According to CNMI chief prosecutor David Hutton, the tourist has been coming into and out of Saipan to traffic ice."

An October 2003 report put out by the US DOJ National Drug Intelligence Center, entitled, Northern Marianas Drug Threat Assessment, also emphasizes the role the CNMI plays in being a door from Asian countries to the US for trafficked illegal drugs. It also links the rise in "Ice" use with the rise in violent crime in the CNMI. It details the involvement of organized crime and details how the drugs are smuggled into the CNMI in "shafts of golf clubs, bottles of shampoo, or in other items given to the couriers." The outlook in the report states:

"The availability and abuse of crystal methamphetamine will continue to increase in the CNMI, and a corresponding rise in violent crime also is expected."

The State Department's 2003 International Narcotic Report also called Guam and Saipan "lucrative" drug markets. A 2004 Saipan Tribune article states:

“Ethnic Chinese drug trafficking organizations used Hong Kong as a transit point to move methamphetamine from Southern China to Guam and Saipan to take advantage of the lucrative market in these areas,” the report said.

It said that traffickers use land routes through mainland China to smuggle heroin into Hong Kong for transit to the overseas market.

The same report said that the Philippines “also serves as a transshipment point for further export of methamphetamine of foreign manufacture to Japan, Australia, Korea, the U.S., Guam, and Saipan.”

Today's Tribune carries this story, Man indicted for 'ice' distribution on Tinian. The Chinese national was selling the drugs from his home in San Jose, Tinian.

Here are more "Ice" stories: 2 men nabbed for alleged 'ice' trafficking on Tinian, January 2008, those involved are Chinese nationals; Jobless man nabbed for allegedly selling 'ice', February 2008, Chinese national; Woman gets five months for 'ice' possession, February 2008, Chinese national; Man busted for alleged 'ice' trafficking January 2008, Chinese national; Man on probation arrested again on 'ice' trafficking charges, January 2008, local; 2 alleged 'ice' suppliers fall December 2007, Chinese nationals; Alleged 'ice' supplier busted, October 2007, Chinese nationals;Woman gets prison term for 'ice', September 2007, local;Man admits selling 'ice', June 2007, Chinese national; 8 charges filed vs 2 alleged 'ice' distributors, December 2006, Chinese nationals; Alleged 'ice' trafficker falls September 2006, local; Man in 'ice' case gets 119 days April 2006, Chinese national; Man nabbed during ice bust, September 2006, Chinese national; Alien worker pleads guilty to 'ice' possession, December 2006, Chinese national; Man nabbed for selling 'ice', July 2006, Chinese national; Man whose wife was killed in 2006 is arrested for 'ice', May 2007, local; Man in 'ice trafficking' case faces deportation, February 2006, Chinese national; Woman caught for allegedly trafficking ice April 2005, Chinese national;Teacher aide faces drug trafficking charges April 2005, local; 65 grams of ice seized from two tourists, May 2002, Japanese nationals; Women nabbed for selling ice at hotel room, February 2005, Chinese national; Man arrested for alleged 'ice' trafficking, February 27, 2007, identity not released, case sealed." There are dozens of additional articles on the trafficking of methamphetamine hydrochloride into the CNMI with emphasis on busts taking place in Tinian and Saipan.

Illegal drugs are not the only items being smuggled from Asia into the CNMI. Today's Marianas Variety has a story that state Tinian is a drop off point for illegal pesticides from China. The article states:

"Smuggled pesticides, according to Jesus M. Castro the newly elected board member of Saipan Sabalu Farmers Market Association, had been a problem for a long time on Saipan.

He said they have repeatedly brought up this issue before.

The use of smuggled pesticides, he said, does not only affect the local farmers’ sales of vegetables but also poses a public health risk.

But what really bothers the farmers most, Castro said, is the possible contamination of the island’s groundwater which is only about 200 feet below surface.

A farmer said they have evidence that many nonresident farmers leasing commercial farm plots are using restricted pesticides haphazardly.

Castro, for his part, wants to know why Tinian-bound container vans from China are not inspected at the Saipan seaport.

There are container vans that reach Saipan sea port but they are not opened until they reach Tinian, he said.

Many farmers believe Tinian has become a dropping point of smuggled pesticides. Once it reach Tinian in “un-inspected” container vans, the pesticides are poured into the bottles of over-the-counter pesticides that are permitted in CNMI before they are shipped to Saipan, Castro said."

The article states that the seaports and airports lack quarantine staff to inspect shipments. Considering the danger to the public water supply, to the health of the people using the illegal pesticides, and to the health of those who eat the treated vegetables, it would seem that stopping importation of illegal pesticides should be prioritized.

Federalization is essential to secure the borders, and to stop the trafficking of drugs, illegal substances such as pesticides, and the trafficking of innocent women and minors.