Internet, Mail Replace Boats, “Mules” As Synthetic Drugs Arrive From China


From Nanjing, a bustling city on China's Yangtze River, the package traveled 8,000 miles toward an unassuming barbershop in Miami. At a U.S. Customs warehouse, suspicious federal inspectors flagged the nondescript brown paper parcel. Inside, they found a variant of methylone, one of a host of synthetic chemicals sold as the euphoric club drug known as Molly, reports the Miami Herald. A records check found that in two months, 21 similar packages from China had been mailed to the Heads Up Barbershop. After a 20-month investigation, including an undercover agent posing as a mail carrier, federal authorities this spring arrested a former Florida International University honors student David “Sway” McConnell. 28. He was using the shop as a drop for an illegal party-pill operation built entirely on chemicals imported in bulk from China.

For McConnell and other dealers across the U.S., the loosely regulated pipeline of synthetic drugs from China has created a new model for doing business in the digital age. Tech-savvy dealers order from overseas suppliers with just a few mouse clicks and pay with simple money transfers. They don't need go-fast boats or drug “mules,” long the smuggling tools of old-school narco-traffickers. Dealers in the booming synthetics trade use the trusty U.S. Postal Service or big-name parcel shippers. “There is no typical drug dealer anymore,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer. “It's easy to get access to this stuff. It's less dangerous and less risky. These new drug dealers are using the Internet, and all they need is a runner to go intercept the package from overseas.”

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