To Your Health
‘I guess you are here for the opium’: Investigator stumbles across $500 million in poppy plants
By Cleve R. Wootson Jr. May 25 at 1:57 PM
Investigators in Catawba County, N.C., found a field loaded with opium poppy plants. (Steve Ohnesorge/WBTV)
Cody Xiong cracked open his door, saw the investigator on his porch and 'fessed up, authorities say.
“I guess,” Xiong said, “you are here for the opium.”
The investigator wasn't. But suddenly, he was intrigued.
What followed was a massive opium bust, based entirely on a North Carolina poppy grower who thought prematurely that the jig was up.
His field contained about $500 million worth of opium-producing poppy plants, authorities said.
Xiong is charged with manufacturing a Schedule II drug and trafficking in opium, both felonies. He was arrested and released from jail on $45,000 bail, and could not be reached for comment. It's unclear if he has a lawyer.
Deputies have spent the past few days unearthing Xiong's opium plants and his scheme, Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid told The Washington Post. It was apparently based on the theory that no one would come looking for opium plants on a dead-end gravel road in the rural foothills of North Carolina.
“It was out there,” Reid said. “Only residents know that it is out there at the end of the road. It wasn’t something you could just ride by.”
Claremont, where authorities made the bust, has a population of roughly 1,400 people, according to the census, and is about an hour's drive northwest of Charlotte, the state's largest city.
The investigator was at Xiong's property conducting a warrantless “knock and talk,” according to the sheriff's office.
Reid said investigators had received a tip about another matter. The sheriff wouldn't disclose what it was but said it definitely wasn't about what investigators found: more than an acre filled with poppies.
The poppies, with their bulging seed pods, were planted in tidy rows behind Xiong's home and were obscured by trees.
They have to be weighed before investigators know the exact value of the haul, but authorities figure there were about 2,000 pounds of poppies in all, valued at an estimated half-billion dollars.
[Where opiates killed the most people in 2015]
Reid's investigators believed the plants were being grown and harvested in Catawba County, then shipped elsewhere to be turned into heroin.
The sap from seed pods of opium poppies is extracted after slitting the bulb, according to a PBS “Frontline” story on the drug trade. Then, the jellylike fluid can be combined with other chemicals to produce a range of opiates including morphine, codeine and heroin.
There are many varieties of poppies, often distinguished by their bright flowers; among them, the opium poppy, or Papaver somniferum, is the only one that's illegal to grow.
Only people or companies registered with the Food and Drug Administration — legal drug manufacturers, for example — can possess the plant, according to Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Possessing the edible seeds, however, is legal.
The investigation into Xiong's operation is ongoing and now involves DEA agents.
Sheriff's deputies have been turned into de facto farm hands, pulling the plants and loading them into trailers.
“We've been out here for about an hour pulling plants, and we've not made a dent in it yet,” Captain Jason Reid told CBS affiliate WBTV on Tuesday.
Investigators also found several chickens with injuries consistent with cockfighting, authorities said.
The chickens and a few dogs on the property were removed by animal control officers, although no one has been charged.
Cody Xiong. (Catawba County Sheriff's Office)
Catawba County has a deadly history with opium. The drug was responsible for the worst mass killing in the county's history — slayings in 2009 that residents still refer to as “the opium murders.”
A woman and her three children were found shot and stabbed to death inside their Catawba County home, according to the Associated Press.
Investigators say the woman's husband, Brian Tzeo, was involved in an interstate opium trafficking ring. He'd get opium from Thailand, convert it to heroin and then give it to a woman who'd take it to Wisconsin to sell.
The killers came looking for Tzeo, drugs and cash, but he was at work.
They found his family instead, including his 4-year-old son whom investigators found shot to death with his fingers still inside his cereal bowl.
Re: $500 million in opium seized in North Carolina
There is no way that an acre or two of poppies are worth anywhere near that figure.
Also, in most states it's legal to cultivate poppies, as long the head are not cut to milk the latex. Although the article has a link to a specific North Carolina law prohibiting the cultivation of Papaver somniferum, it may be difficult to prove that's what it is.
Those that say, don't know. Those that know, don't say.
Fckn sweet. Sisk is right, 1 acre ain't touching 1/2 bill. Each plant contains ~80mg morphine. It's a 1:1 reaction but you obviously ain't getting 100% efficiency so maybe 70mg of h per pod. After you stretch it a bit maybe looking at 10$ a pod max. In ATL you're looking at $70 a g. That's dealer price up to a couple oz. I know 1 guy getting .25 lb at 59$/g. I'd reckon once you get to be a player it'll come down to around 40-50/g for kilos and it'll be better quality. But idk anyone moving weight like that
Re: $500 million in opium seized in North Carolina
Can't believe this genius shot himself in the foot. Lol wow.. some ppl just ain't cut out for the risk.
Unfortunately fent is where the money is. That's gonna screw everyone using the mail system for illegal activity tho. The Canada route is already fckd. Direct from China will get shut down soon also. Maybe I shouldn't say shut down. But for example, try to get some fentanyl or xanax from Canada right now... you're looking at 30-40% seizure rate. And if it's over a gram of fentanyl my bet is on them going thru with the controlled delivery. An option we may see come about is shipping from Canada/china>mexico>USA. That wouldn't surprise me a bit.
If I used North Carolinian math, just one hundredth of an acre would earn 5 million dollars! I almost feel sorry for the guy but he knew what he was doing, it probably wasn't for grandmas aches and pains.
I wonder if we'll start seeing more of these busts in the USA due to the better return on investment.