A Mexican drug cartel’s pressing need for ephedrine, the essential ingredient in methamphetamine, brought a worldly group of businessmen together in Las Vegas in 2009, including an Oregon entrepreneur, three ephedrine smugglers from India, and a customs broker who bounced between San Diego and Tijuana, reports the Oregonian. Then there was the mystery man looking for a piece of the action, who turned out to be a federal agent from Portland.
The government busted all five of the businessmen in Vegas, breaking up the biggest ephedrine ring ever to operate out of Oregon. The arrests shut down a pipeline that moved the precursor chemical from India to the U.S. to Mexico, much of it in liquid form and labeled “green tea extract.” Prosecutors estimate the shipments helped the cartel put between $20 million and $38 million of meth on the street. A judge yesterday sentenced an ephedrine broker to a 4 1/2 year prison term, closing the books on a case dubbed “Operation Liquid Dragon.” The Oregonian tells the story of the case, which was broken by an IRS investigator, aided by alert customs crews and immigration agents.