Six area residents and nine Lebanese nationals, including a recently retired member of the Lebanese senate, were charged yesterday with immigration and drug violations in connection with a heroin smuggling network that officials said brought more than $200 million worth of heroin to Washington over the last three years.
Federal agents seized 25 kilograms of nearly pure heroin in the operation and made seven related arrests in Detroit, New Jersey, Toledo and Miami, according to law enforcement officials.
Documents unsealed in the case allege that Lebanese-produced heroin reached the United States by way of Germany, that Syrian guards have been bribed to allow drug shipments past Lebanese checkpoints and that funds taken from the German Embassy in Lebanon once were used to pay for the transportation of heroin.
U.S. Attorney Henry E. Hudson said yesterday that the arrests late Monday capped a 16-month investigation begun by the Drug Enforcement Administration and should have a significant impact on the flow of heroin into the United States from Southwest Asia.
The heroin network, allegedly masterminded by former Lebanese senator Kamal Charif, was "one of the principal suppliers of heroin in the Washington area and had tentacles stretching to Detroit, New York and Ohio," Hudson said.
Hudson added that a local distributor for the group sold at least one kilogram a month in the Washington area and that the Charif organization had made an agreement with undercover agents to begin shipments of 50 kilograms a month to the Washington market.
Heroin has become increasingly popular with Washington area drug users, according to Peter F. Gruden, special agent in charge of the DEA's Washington field office. "Heroin is a growing problem in this country. There's no question about it," said Gruden, adding that the problem is exacerbated by the availability of high-quality heroin.
The heroin seized during the investigation was about four times the purity of heroin normally found with Washington's street-level dealers, Gruden said.
Law enforcement sources said the heroin came from the Bekaa Valley, a center of heroin processing in Lebanon, which produces an estimated 20,000 pounds of heroin annually, 2,500 pounds of which makes its way to the streets of the United States each year.
All but four of those arrested this week were charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria with conspiring to possess and sell at least one kilogram of heroin, a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison without parole. The four were charged with immigration violations.
The six Washington area residents arrested were Sami Abukdur, 45, of Fairfax; Pietro Blanco, 45, of Fairfax; Ghazzi Khalife, 25, of Arlington; Yamount Rana, no age given, of Arlington; Quinton Randolph, 31, of Prince George's County, and Duke Rashad, 40, of Fairfax.
Kamal Charif, 59, was arrested with four family members in an Arlington apartment in the 5500 block of Columbia Pike, which had been rented for the Charifs by undercover agents posing as major heroin traffickers. The other four Lebanese nationals were arrested at other locations in Northern Virginia.
Federal agents said the investigation began in June 1989 when Wadgy Charif, Kamal Charif's son and a former University of Maryland student, met with an undercover agent and claimed he could provide virtually any quantity of heroin that the Washington market could bear.
At a subsequent meeting at an Alexandria restaurant, Wadgy Charif told the undercover agent that his father "owned and operated one of the largest heroin processing facilities in the Bekaa Valley," according to an affidavit prepared by a DEA agent.
Over the last year of the investigation, multi-kilogram deals were arranged in which heroin was shipped to Frankfurt, where it was stored before being flown to the United States, according to court documents.
One source cited in an affidavit claimed it had become difficult to ship heroin out of Lebanon because "Syrian police were now running the airport and asking for $10,000 per kilogram to allow heroin through the checkpoints." Drugs were smuggled into Frankfurt by hiding the heroin inside truck batteries, documents stated.
A Lebanese national arrested this week told undercover agents that his wife, an employee at the German Embassy in Lebanon, once had used embassy funds to purchase a shipment of heroin and that his wife needed to replace the money quickly.
Many of the deals were consummated in hotels and apartments in Arlington and Alexandria, according to an affidavit.