Ecstasy suspect enters plea

An alleged coordinator for an Ecstasy organization in Vietnam will remain in federal custody in Baton Rouge indefinitely after pleading not guilty Friday to charges that he plotted to send more than 1.1 million tablets of the illegal drug from Canada to Baton Rouge and other U.S. cities.

A shackled Vinh Van Trinh appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Riedlinger wearing a black-and-gray striped West Baton Rouge Parish Prison jumpsuit at his arraignment on the federal charges.

Riedlinger postponed Trinh’s scheduled detention hearing until a later date after Trinh’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Mark Upton, told the magistrate that the federal public defender’s office only became involved in the case Thursday and needs more time to prepare.

Trinh is charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts of possession with intent to distribute Ecstasy, also known as MDMA.

Riedlinger advised Trinh that each count carries up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Trinh told the magistrate, “Thank you, your honor, and Happy New Year.”

Trinh was arrested Dec. 3 in Milwaukee, Wis., on a warrant secretly issued in April by U.S. District Judge James J. Brady.

Brady also had sealed the indictment obtained April 19 by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer M. Kleinpeter against Trinh and seven other people. All are alleged to have conspired to smuggle Ecstasy from Ontario, Canada, on 18-wheelers headed for Baton Rouge, Dallas, Los Angeles, Raleigh, N.C., and other unspecified locations.

The conspiracy is alleged to have begun by August 2005 and continued until at least April of this year.

Others charged in the case are Nam Van To, Barjinder Singh Shahi, Amarjit-Singh Kullar, Douglas Jerry Akhigbe, Gurmukh-Singh Brar, Karan Uppal and Amandip Singh Chahal.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse lists Ecstasy as a Schedule I drug “with high abuse potential and no recognized medicinal use.” NIDA also refers to the drug as a euphoria-inducing stimulant for which use can lead to confusion, depression, sleep problems and drug craving.

Large doses can lead to organ failure, even death, according to NIDA. Prolonged use at more moderate levels can cause blurred vision and increases in a person’s heart rate and blood pressure.