The amount of unauthorized chemicals delivered to Northwestern facilities last year was large enough to suggest an unlawful distribution of the illegal drug Ecstasy, an official at the Drug Enforcement Administration said Tuesday.
DEA: Orders meant for Ecstasy distributionNU supplier could have provided the chemicals -- maybe more than once
By Sheila Burt and Dan Strumpf
The DEA joined the Chicago Police Department this week in investigating the purchase and diversion of one kilogram of safrole powder and three liters of safrole liquid, said Gary Boertlein, a spokesman for the DEA's Chicago office. The chemical was delivered to various locations on NU's campuses to unknown individuals last year.
Safrole is an ingredient used to manufacture Ecstasy, a psychoactive drug that affects the brain's use of the naturally-produced chemical serotonin, which regulates mood and aggression.
Boertlein could not specify if one or both of NU's campuses -- Evanston and Chicago -- were the locations for the deliveries, but an NU official said early this week that both campuses are involved in the incident.
"It's clear from a review of the report that Northwestern (University Police) filed with the Chicago Police Department that the chemicals were diverted for an illicit purpose and we suspect they were diverted for the illegal manufacture of MDMA, also known as Ecstasy," Boertlein said.
Boertlein and an official at the Chicago Police did not know which company the perpetrators used to make the unauthorized purchase. However, records with the St. Louis-based chemical distribution company Sigma-Aldrich, a major chemical provider for NU, show that the university placed two orders for safrole in September, individuals within the company told The Daily on Tuesday.
The two orders of safrole were placed by phone with Sigma-Aldrich on Sept. 3 and 5, 2003, said Dotti Pennington, a customer service supervisor for the company.
"It does appear that there has been quite a bit of activity going on regarding this order," Pennington said. She and other individuals with the company declined to specify the exact quantity of the chemical ordered or how much the orders cost.
The orders placed with Sigma-Aldrich in September were placed over the phone -- the same ordering method listed as a possible means of obtaining the unauthorized orders, according to an e-mail sent to university faculty and staff Saturday.
Although the DEA is in the initial stages of the investigation, Boertlein said the agency has specific goals.
The investigation will look into how the perpetrator or perpetrators obtained NU's registration number -- a type of license that allows the school to purchase, own and use certain federally-flagged chemicals -- how the number was used and how safrole was diverted from the normal legal delivery process of the university, Boertlein said. He added he does not think NU's shipping procedures of chemicals are at fault in the matter.
"It appears someone who had access to the registration number and the process engaged in illegal activity," Boertlein said.
The DEA issued a public advisory in May 2003 warning chemical distributors about the drug-making potential of safrole, which is a substance naturally found in the oils from sassafras and camphor trees.
Chicago Police is investigating an unauthorized order of safrole placed on Sept. 9, 2003. UP filed a deceptive practice report with the department on Nov. 7, 2003, for the unauthorized purchase and pick-up of $3,608.78 worth of safrole at NU.
Patrick Camden, a spokesman for Chicago Police, said in the filed report that "there is a mention of previous orders." This suggests that multiple orders may be in consideration.
The e-mail sent to NU faculty and staff Saturday stated that more than $13,000 worth of chemicals that can be used to produce illegal drugs have been ordered and delivered to NU facilities on both campuses during the past year. University officials have declined to comment on the matter.
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