Surgeons remove $500K of heroin from suspected smuggler
Posted June 19, 2008 3:51 p.m. EDT
Updated June 21, 2008 6:47 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The case of a suspected Nigerian drug smuggler who swallowed more than a pound of heroin points to a larger problem of drug trafficking through the Triangle, local and federal officials said.
An ambulance transported Ochunkwo Ezikpe Ogbuanu, 43, from a local residence to WakeMed early Tuesday after he complained of an illness. Emergency room workers discovered Ogbuanu had swallowed bags containing heroin, a police spokesman said.
"It was determined after some investigation that this patient had ingested a quantity of heroin," Jim Sughrue, a spokesman for the Raleigh police, said.
Over the two days, doctors were able to remove some drugs by mouth, but had to operate to get out the rest, sources close to the investigation told WRAL News.
Doctors removed several bags containing 1.27 pounds of heroin – with an estimated street value of $500,000 – from Ogbuanu's chest area, according to an arrest warrant. The Associated Press reported that Ogbuanu told emergency workers that he had flown from Nigeria on Saturday with 42 bags of heroin inside his stomach.
Ogbuanu was listed in serious condition Friday morning, but police said doctors expect him to fully recover. Officers were keeping a 24-hour guard on his hospital room, because he was considered an extreme flight risk.
Police charged Ogbuanu with trafficking heroin by possession and trafficking heroin by transportation. Under state law, Ogbuanu could get up to 18 years in prison if convicted.
State and federal authorities said Ogbuanu's case is just one example of a major drug-trafficking problem in the Triangle area.
"It's really insidious," U.S. Attorney George Holding said. "It's tearing our community apart. It's growing exponentially."
A drug task force, created in February, will soon gain a board of directors and more federal funding. The N.C.-Triangle High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force coordinates federal, state and local law enforcement to crack down on drug-trafficking throughout North Carolina.
Government experts explained that the Triangle's geographic position makes it a prime location from which traffickers can distribute drugs throughout the region.
"You have all major thoroughfares, 85, 40, 95, so it's easy," said Donny Hansen, the resident agent-in-charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's Raleigh office.
Federal and state agents have started assisting with the investigation surrounding Ogbuanu.
"If we determine that they are other people who might be involved in some way and we can ID those people and develop probable cause, then we would have charges there, too," Sughrue said.