updated 3/31/2004 4:01:36 PM ET 2004-03-31T21:01:36

Drug agents began rounding up 170 people in the United States and Canada who they said were part of a distribution ring responsible for 15 percent of all the Ecstasy smuggled into this country.

At its height, the alleged trafficking ring distributed 1 million Ecstasy tablets per month in the two countries and laundered $5 million a month through bank transfers, officials said Wednesday.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen Tandy said the two-year investigation, dubbed “Operation Candy Box,” culminated in the arrests of nearly the entire trafficking operation, from kingpins to couriers.

“We wiped out this entire organization,” Tandy said at a news conference.

The alleged ringleaders are Ze Wai Wong, 46, a Chinese citizen, and Mai Phuong Le, 38, a Vietnamese citizen. Wong was arrested in Toronto and Le in Ottawa.

Ring also allegedly trafficked in marijuana
U.S. and Canadian charging documents accuse Wong of leading a drug distribution ring in 18 U.S. cities and Canada and contend that Le orchestrated the laundering of drug money for the operation.

The investigation revealed for the first time the existence of Ecstasy manufacturing labs in Canada, which were supplied by powder smuggled from the Netherlands, said Deputy Attorney General James Comey. The three labs were dismantled by Canadian officials in August.

The organization also trafficked in Canadian-grown marijuana, known as “BC Bud,” and was involved in identity theft and other criminal enterprises, officials said. Ecstasy, or MDMA, is a synthetic substance that is known as a “club drug” because of its popularity at gatherings called “raves” and dance clubs.

Of those charged in arrest warrants, about 145 had been arrested as of Wednesday afternoon. Arrest and search warrants were executed in 16 American cities, with Canadian authorities serving 50 arrest warrants in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.

Arrests were made in these U.S. cities: Houston; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Oakland, Calif.; San Jose, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla.; New Orleans; Baton Rouge, La.; Mobile, Ala.; New York; Boston; Atlanta; Alexandria, Va.; Des Moines, Iowa; Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.

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