By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 8, 2007
A federal judge scolded prosecutors yesterday for producing little evidence against a Chinese Mexican millionaire arrested in July on charges that he conspired to import massive amounts of methamphetamine to the United States.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan cited the lack of evidence in refusing prosecutors' initial request to keep Zhenli Ye Gon jailed for a year while they gather information from foreign governments. The judge agreed, however, to keep the 44-year-old founder of a Mexican pharmaceutical company detained in the D.C. jail for three more months to give prosecutors time to assemble their case.
"You say you have all this evidence, but you haven't turned anything over," Sullivan said. "The man was arrested two months ago. That concerns me."
"According to the government, this is a big case . . . the biggest seizure of drug money ever," Sullivan added. "So the government needs to . . . proceed at something more than a snail's pace."
Ye Gon was arrested in Wheaton on July 23, after a March raid on his Mexico City mansion, where Mexican authorities said they seized $205 million in U.S. drug profits in his master bedroom closet. But Mexican authorities have not produced either the money or the meth-making chemicals they say they found headed for Ye Gon's pharmaceutical company.
Ye Gon and his attorneys have argued that he was framed by Mexico's ruling party, which had ordered him to store an illegal presidential slush fund. They say the United States hastily arrested Ye Gon without evidence to back up the Mexican government's accusations.
Yesterday, Justice Department lawyer Paul Laymon spent nearly 30 minutes outlining the government's position on Ye Gon's role in a cartel -- without identifying any evidence that the U.S. government has tying Ye Gon to a massive meth-importing scheme.
Laymon said he and his colleagues traveled to Mexico last week searching for evidence and went through 11 large boxes containing Ye Gon's business records and other documents that Mexican authorities seized from his mansion. Laymon said most of the records were in Spanish and Chinese, which he doesn't read, and the government must hire contractors to scan and translate the records.
"Were you able to view the money that was seized?" Sullivan asked.
"No," Laymon answered. "I've seen a video of it."
Laymon said the United States does have records of Ye Gon's gambling debts in Las Vegas, which amount to more than $120 million over several years.
"Gambling's not illegal," Sullivan said.
But Laymon said the building housing Ye Gon's headquarters is virtually unmarked, has no walk-in customers and appears poorly run and unable to generate the millions of dollars that Ye Gon has made. And a manufacturing plant that Ye Gon was building in Toluca, Mexico, is very sophisticated yet has no sales force for customers, Laymon said.
Ye Gon's defense attorney, Lisa Angelo, said her client isn't charged with carrying around a lot of money, money laundering or gambling but with helping import methamphetamine to the United States in large volumes.
"What's lacking in the [government's statements] is a link to the charges he faces," she said. "The government is asking the court to make these huge leaps . . . when there is a very, very reasonable explanation for everything the government has said."