Man Arrested at O'Hare for Allegedly Trying to Smuggle Opium in Drug-Soaked Tablecloths


CHICAGO (AP) - A man was arrested at O'Hare International Airport for allegedly smuggling opium-soaked tablecloths into the country from Thailand, authorities said.

Michael S. James of Minneapolis was arrested April 18 with 90 of the tablecloths sealed in plastic bags in his luggage, according to court records and investigators.

The opium was bound for the Minneapolis area, where it would have been processed to produce more than 9 pounds of heroin worth about $5 million, police said.

The smuggling method was "amazingly ingenious," said Lt. John Cich, who leads the narcotics unit of the Hennepin County, Minn., Sheriff's Department.

Police in Minneapolis, acting on a tip, notified U.S. Customs agents in Chicago that James was coming through, and a drug-sniffing dog detected the opium in his two suitcases, officials said.

Two other men, Vong Her of St. Paul, Minn., and Fai Yang of Eau Claire, Wis., were arrested after meeting James at the airport. They allegedly paid James and gave him a free plane ticket to fly overseas and go back to Minneapolis with the tablecloths, according to criminal complaints.

James, who was ordered to undergo a mental competency evaluation, told authorities he was to be paid $10,000 and knew his suitcases contained drug-soaked tablecloths. All three men were charged last week with importing drugs.

James and Her remained in custody Friday while Yang was freed on a $250,000 bond.

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