By Florence F. Hibionada
Senior Reporter, Philippine News Service (PNS)
A 42-year old “Emerging Asian” awardee honoured as “Outstanding Entrepreneur” of the Asian Business Association of Orange County is back in the news. From the pages of Filipino newspapers, this time his entrepreneurship made it really big with news landing in the pages of major newspaper throughout United States.
This as the former awardee was indicted on conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to structure financial transactions. The co-accused – his 70 year old mother dubbed in the news as the “ringleader” of a bigtime drug cartel.
Both are of Filipino-Chinese descent facing Federal charges directly linked to what US authorities have dubbed a narcotics ring involved in illegal drug trafficking of a controlled substance.
Arrested yet out on $75,000 (Php 1.8M) bail is Lucita Uy and son, Lemuel Uy Libunao whose bond was $150,000 (Php 3.6M). Uy has been named and tagged by US authorities and the US media as the “ringleader” and the son, a co-conspirator.
The duo is assisted by the Glenn K Osajima Law Offices in Santa Ana, California with Court trial set on November 29, 2011. Pending the Court date, mother’s and son’s passports have been confiscated with further Orders out on travel restrictions.
Local follow ups confirmed that Libunao along with his Ilongga wife and two children made at least two trips to her hometown in Iloilo. The young couple is also known to relatives and friends to have an opulent lifestyle in the US with regular foreign vacations. In fact, the wife was reportedly set for another hometown visit for a school reunion prior to her husband’s arrest.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) confirmed the charges versus Uy and Libunao and two others who were similarly arrested. Said confirmation was subject of an official news release obtained by Philippine News Service (PNS).
Uy and Libunao when arraigned pleaded not guilty. US authorities in pursuing the charges against mother and son established a four-year buying and selling spree of controlled substance Promethazine. A cough suppressant, use of Promethazine is known to be habit-forming and has since been commonly-abused. “Diverted” Promethazine has street value of $150 to $200 in Los Angeles while price is more than doubled at P$300 to $600 a pint of bottle in Houston, Texas.
Being a controlled-substance, only authorized and registered doctors or pharmacists can avail of wholesale Promethazine purchase. Mother and son are now charged to have elaborately planned the illegal drug trafficking in two US states by setting up three pharmacies. Incidentally, all areas of Uy and Libunao’s pharmacy have predominant presence of Filipino-American communities.
Promethazine as abused and illegally sold is known to cause a “high” to users similar to what Heroine would cause. If taken with alcohol, the results are often fatal.
In a 36-paged indictment obtained by PNS, established were wire transfers in hundreds of thousands of dollars and at least 10 bank accounts that were opened through the years by Uy and Libunao. Two of the questioned seized accounts included “nominee accounts” under the name of Libunao’s Ilongga wife with initial deposits of $10,000 and $5,000.
“More than twice as many Americans abuse prescription drugs than those using cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin, and inhalants combined,” said Timothy J. Landrum, DEA Special Agent in Charge in an official DEA News Release. “DEA is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure those who endanger our communities by distributing these dangerous drugs are brought to justice.”
“According to court documents, Uy acquired three pharmacies – Plaza Pharmacy in Santa Ana, Value Plus Pharmacy in Long Beach, and Blue Rose Pharmacy in Buena Park – so she could obtain promethazine from wholesale distributors,” the DEA news release continued.
The indictment further stated deposits of more than $6.9 million in cash and more than $2.7 million in money orders into bank accounts courtesy of the ‘drug money.’
“In conjunction with the indictment, the IRS – Criminal Investigation is seeking to forfeit property allegedly obtained with the proceeds of the illegal distribution scheme. The property to be forfeited includes seven real properties located in Monrovia, Claremont and Houston; $64,500 in cash; a 2007 Mercedes Benz S550; a 2007 Honda CRV; a 2007 Toyota Tundra; and 11 luxury watches including a Rolex trimmed in diamonds,” the DEA said. “The allegations against Uy and her co-conspirators indicate they intended to enrich themselves by engaging in conduct that put the lives of others at risk,” said IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Leslie P. DeMarco. “One of the government’s most powerful weapons is the ability to seize through asset forfeiture the property obtained through this illegal distribution scheme, including real estate, cash, vehicles and jewelry. By taking away their assets and profits, we deprive them of the proceeds of their criminal activity.”
If convicted, Uy and Libunao would face a statutory maximum sentence of 25 years in federal prison while two others similarly charged would each face up to 20 years in prison.
US blogger and culture writer Brande Victorian in a post wrote, “I had really hoped the purple drank trend would die out, but thanks to Lil Wayne and a Houston grandmother from the Philippines, the sizzurp supply and demand chain lives on. Seventy-year-old Lucita Uy reportedly raked in at least $10 million by purchasing 97,000 pints of prescription-strength cough syrup and smuggling it from California to Houston to make the purple stuff. According to the Houston Chronicle, the going price is $300-$600 per pint, and granny had enough to make 1.5 million doses. If you think perhaps her kids and grandkids are the mastermind behind the scheme and she’s just an innocent bystander, don’t. Uy once served 20 months in federal prison a decade ago for money laundering. I can only imagine what she was up to in her heyday.”
Another post by Danielle Pointdujour wrote an article titled “When Old Folks Go Bad: Grandma charged with running $10 Million “Purple Drank” Ring.
“Whose granny is this??,” he asked. “A 70 year-old Houston grandmother from the Philippines has been charged with being the ring leader of a multi-million dollar codeine distribution ring. Lucita Uy apparently felt like President Obama was taking too long to up her social security payments and decided to form her own criminal enterprise instead. The grandmother along with her son Lemuel Libunao and two others, banked at least $10 million and used pharmacies that she owned to purchase 97,000 pints of prescription-strength cough syrup and smuggle them from California to Houston.”