U.S. customs agent among 14 nabbed in Ecstasy bust

A U.S. customs agent and his wife, an airline employee, have been charged with helping funnel guns and drug money through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

By Christian Boone
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A U.S. customs agent from Stockbridge and his wife, a Delta employee, have been charged with helping funnel guns and drug money through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, federal officials said Thursday.

They were arrested along with 12 others after parallel investigations also turned up $2.8 million worth of Ecstasy --- about 700,000 tabs of the amphetamine-like drug --- stored at a residence in Chamblee.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates called it "the largest Ecstasy seizure in the country this year" and the ninth largest in U.S. history.

Veteran customs agent Devon Samuels, who is also known as "Smokey," was granted a secured bond with home monitoring Thursday morning, according to Yates, who said she is appealing that bond decision. Samuels and his wife, Keisha Jones, are charged with conspiring to launder drug money, bulk cash smuggling and attempting to bring weapons onto an aircraft.

The investigation into Samuels' actions progressed quickly after a tip from an unnamed source. According to the indictment, a federal agent posing as a money launderer met with Samuels on Nov. 3. Samuels was given $22,000 he believed was generated from drug sales, federal agents said.

Samuels is accused of using his security clearance to avoid screening checkpoints en route to Jamaica, where he delivered the money to a Jamaican police officer acting as an international drug trafficker. Jones accompanied him on the trip, officials said.

Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott would not say what Jones' position was with the airline. "We actively participated in this investigation from its inception and will continue to provide our support," she said.

The couple returned to Jamaica on Nov. 19 after accepting another $50,000 in alleged drug funds, according to the indictment. Samuels was given $20,000, along with five firearms, on Nov. 30 from an undercover officer who instructed the customs agent to deliver the package to the airport. There, he was met by another incognito agent who told Samuels he was headed to Arizona for a meeting with members of a Mexican drug cartel.

David D'Amato, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Samuels sold himself to the highest bidder.

"By bringing down Samuels, we're cutting the head off the snake" of this organization, he said.

The Ecstasy and marijuana trafficking ring, led by Jerome Bushay of Norcross and Fnu Lu, known as "Otis" and whose address is unknown, was responsible for "the lion's share of Ecstasy coming into this region," said Rod Benson, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Samuels, 45, is accused of using his government clearance to run periodic computer checks to determine whether he and his associates were under federal investigation. He's also accused of using his position to assist Carlton Ferguson and Dahlia McLaren of Decatur in deceiving immigration authorities about their sham marriage, officials said. He was allegedly paid at least $500 to help McLaren obtain U.S. citizenship.

"The severity of Samuels' actions can't be overstated," D'Amato said.

Copyright 2010 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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