Two Nigerian sisters arrested at Dulles International Airport in January while carrying $247,000 in cash and cashier's checks were given prison sentences yesterday by U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams for currency violations.
Gladys Ozim, 25, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and fined $60,000, and Christiana Ozim, 23, was given an 18-month sentence and fined $260,000.
The sisters, described by a government prosecutor yesterday as having "all the trappings of drug couriers," have been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in Alexandria next Monday, along with a third sister, Grace Ozim.
The Ozims, who have denied that the money they were carrying was related to drug dealing, filed appeals of their convictions and sentences yesterday, their attorneys said.
They were convicted March 5 of conspiracy to transport U.S. currency in excess of $10,000 out of the country without notifying the U.S. Customs Service and of one count of failure to fill out a customs form on the money. Williams denied a motion to release them on bond pending the appeal, saying he felt they were "prime candidates" to flee the country.
The Ozims, who were in this country as students at Southeastern University in the District, were not charged with narcotics violations, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence J. Leiser said their life styles indicated they were involved in drug trafficking.
"Christiana went on numerous one-day turn-around trips to London," Leiser said. "What you've got, your honor, is a perfect drug-courier profile."
Williams told the tearful Ozims "the facts in your case are so bizarre I just cannot accept what you've done as a simple violation of form-filling . . . . "
The amount of money, he said, "convinces me that you were engaged in some drug scheme."
Christiana and Gladys Ozim arrived at Dulles Airport on Jan. 2, bound for London on a British Airways flight, according to court records. When they went through security, a guard said he noticed that the X-ray of Christiana Ozim's maroon suitcase showed what looked like bricks in the bag.
Asked what she had in the bag, Christina Ozim said it was money. Her suitcase contained $200,000 in currency, all in small bills. A carry-on bag belonging to Gladys Ozim contained $35,000. In addition, the sisters were carrying several cashier's checks worth thousands of dollars.
In the last year or so, more than two dozen Nigerian women have been convicted of federal drug-related offenses, and D.C. police recently have begun to talk about a "Nigerian connection" in heroin. They said beige-colored heroin, said to come from Nigeria, has been showing up on the streets. Earlier this month, after nine people died from overdoses of heroin in three days, police speculated that the deadly doses may have come from Nigeria.