A Culver City man accused of supplying illegal drugs to a street gang was still on the run earlier this week, while a woman who owns a massage business on Sepulveda Boulevard is awaiting a hearing in connection with what the Department of Justice says was the largest human-trafficking ring in U.S. history.
Authorities in the drug case were still looking for Culver’s Nathan Nwobi, age 36. He was among 20 individuals—most of them already in custody—implicated in a multimillion-dollar drug ring operated by the San Gabriel Valley-based Red Door street gang.
The arrests were the result of a two-year sting operation that was launched by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency after information suggested that Red Door was selling tons of marijuana and other drugs. Nwobi played a key role, a DEA supervisor said, by supplying the gang with huge amounts of pot that he surreptitiously grew at homes in Studio City and Santa Clarita.
Nwobi has been charged with two counts of intentionally growing marijuana and possession with the intent to distribute it.
In the human-trafficking case, Pranee Tubchumpol is awaiting a Nov. 2 hearing that, if eventually convicted, could send the 44-year-old to prison for the rest of her life.
Tubchumpol owns the Five Senses Spa Thai Massage in the 4300 block of Sepulveda Boulevard, about a block south of Culver Boulevard. A federal indictment said she also served as director of international relations for Global Horizons Manpower Inc., a labor-contracting firm based in Beverly Hills.
Tubchumpol, representing Global Horizons, allegedly helped to lure hundreds of Thai citizens to the U.S. through America’s guest-worker program with promises of good jobs. But once here, the indictment says, they were forced into modern-day slave labor on farms in Hawaii and other states.
Some of the victims paid more than $20,000 for the services of Tubchumpol and Global Horizon, the indictment says, but were paid only a fraction of what they were owed or sometimes nothing at all. Company officials used threats and sometimes even confiscated the workers’ passports to keep them from leaving or complaining, the indictment alleges.
The number of workers who are said to be victims—perhaps more than 400-- is the largest ever in a human trafficking case, said Xochitl Hinojosa, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
Tubchumpol and two other Global employees were recently still in jail. Another was free on $1 million bail but must wear an ankle bracelet so authorities can monitor his whereabouts, FBI Special Agent Tom Simon said.
Thai officials were cooperating with the FBI to locate and extradite two other defendants who remained at large in Thailand, Simon added.