Officer buys ecstasy at Tysons Corner Center to bust drug ring
An undercover police officer buying 4,000 Ecstasy pills in the food court at Tysons Corner Center helped bring down a drug ring that sold 500 pounds of marijuana and 50,000 Ecstasy pills across the Washington region over the last year, according to court documents.
The Ecstasy buys started out small, with an undercover Montgomery County police officer meeting with Fairfax resident Jonathan Pai at the mall in February 2009, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent wrote in an affidavit filed in Alexandria's federal court.
Pai came to trust the officer, which made possible the bigger deal in December when the officer paid $10,000 for 4,000 Ecstasy pills, according to the affidavit. By then, authorities say they had traced the pills back to Hyattsville resident Chen Chieh Yam. Drug trafficking charges have been filed against Yam, Pai and four others. A DEA spokeswoman said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
Investigators with the DEA, Virginia State Police, and Fairfax and Montgomery counties tailed Pai across Northern Virginia and into Maryland. They watched as he stopped at a "stash house" in Centreville, and met with co-conspirators in hotel rooms and at restaurants like TGI Friday's, court documents said.
Authorities also obtained wire taps and say they heard Yam directing deals.
"Just play the game with him," Yam reportedly said as he told Pai to demand cash up front for the 4,000 Ecstasy pills.
On Dec. 3 Pai met the officer near the Desert Moon restaurant stall in the mall's third-floor food court, documents said. Surveillance teams inside the mall watched as the officer handed Pai a Motorola cellphone box containing the cash. Pai then walked away. He came back 40 minutes later and handed over the pills.
Over the next two months, authorities say, Pai, Yam and others focused their attention on several marijuana deals.
On Jan. 22, investigators listened to a phone call between Yam and his girlfriend, Tam Phuong Tran, in which Tran allegedly agreed to launder $30,000 for Yam through a relative's bank account. Tran has been charged with money laundering.
Yam and Pai were arrested on Jan. 31 with nearly $10,000 in their car. After his arrest, Yam reportedly told authorities he had distributed about 500 pounds of marijuana and 50,000 Ecstasy pills in the past year.
By: FREEMAN KLOPOTT
Examiner Staff Writer
March 4, 2010