Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Playboy Channel Producer, 12 Others Face Charges In Ecstasy Case

CBS 4 Los Angeles

Los Angeles - A Playboy Channel producer and the editor of a hip-hop magazine are among 11 people facing charges Monday in connection with a ring that allegedly used aspiring models to smuggle Ecstasy.

Kenneth Cecil Francis III, co-producer with rapper Snoop Dogg of the Playboy program "Buckwild," was arrested Friday at Los Angeles International Airport.

The 37-year-old defendant was expected to make an initial appearance Monday in federal court, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ronald Joseph Samuel, 33, the editor-in-chief of UNleashed magazine, is suspected of overseeing the ring, which allegedly distributed the drug in Los Angeles and New York, ICE officials said.

In 2000 and 2001, the ring allegedly smuggled hundreds of thousands of Ecstasy tablets from Europe into the United States, ICE officials allege.

Samuel, who is being held without bond, was arrested by ICE agents last week in Van Nuys.

A five-count indictment against Francis, Samuel and nine other defendants includes charges of conspiracy to import and distribute Ecstasy, operating a criminal enterprise and money laundering.

The indictment alleges the female couriers made several trips every week to Brussels and Amsterdam, where they were given gift-wrapped packages containing as many as 65,000 tablets of the drug to bring back to the United States.

The ring's leaders reportedly told the couriers the parcels contained smuggled diamonds.

The acting special agent in charge of the ICE investigations office in Los Angeles, Kevin Kozak, said in a statement that Ecstasy pills sell on the street for up to $60 per tablet.

The alleged ring was smuggling "significant quantities" before agents uncovered it, he said.

Seven of the other defendants in the case were arrested last week -- three of them in the Los Angeles area, according to ICE.

The investigation began in 2001, when one of the alleged couriers was intercepted at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam.


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