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Arrests Made in $10 Million ‘Purple Drank’ Ring

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Cold medicines containing dextromethorphan are offered for sale at a retail store December 05, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. Prescription-strength cough medicine is used in the production of purple drank. (credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Cold medicines containing dextromethorphan are offered for sale at a retail store December 05, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. Prescription-strength cough medicine is used in the production of purple drank. (credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) — A drug ring allegedly smuggling prescription-strength cough syrup from California to Houston has been broken up by federal authorities.

Two arrests were made on key players in the ring on Oct. 6.

The syrup was used in the creation of “purple drank,” an illegal, lethal concoction with origins in Houston that became wildly popular in the hip-hop community.

The four defendants – Lucita Uy, Lemuel Libunao, Christopher Lamont Crawford and Kendra Patrice Manigault (known also as “Kendra Edwards”) – face charges of laundering money, conspiracy to structure financial transactions, and criminal forfeiture.

Uy – the alleged ringleader and a 70-year-old grandmother – and Libunao were the parties arrested on Oct. 6.

“In order to obtain a DEA registration number required to lawfully purchase (the cough syrup), between 2004 and 2006 … Uy acquired (several pharmacies located in California),” the indictment provided by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles states.

Until Aug. 22, 2008, this ring continued to thrive, providing supplies of cough syrup to purchasers in Houston who used it to make “purple drank.” At least 24 shipments were allegedly arranged.

Using the millions of dollars earned in smuggling the syrup, Uy and others involved allegedly purchased lavish real estate properties and other high-end products.

To conceal the size of their earnings, Uy and others opened numerous bank accounts, between which funds were distributed and transferred.

Big name musicians such as Li’l Wayne and Three 6 Mafia brought attention to the existence of “purple drank” by referencing it in their lyrics, popularizing the dangerous mixture with fans of the genre.

Houston producer DJ Screw was at the forefront of those musicians habitually enjoying “purple drank,” until he died of an overdose of it in 2000.

“Promethazine, when legally prescribed for a legitimate medical purpose, is typically used to control upper respiratory conditions and as a cough suppressant,” the indictment states of one of “purple drank’s” lead ingredients. “When promethazine is diverted from legitimate medical use and is abused, a person obtains a similar ‘high’ as one would get from heroine.”

Though the ring has been successfully broken, details on the criminal proceedings are scarce, and are in very early stages, according to Tom Mrozek, public affairs officer for the attorney’s office.

“There hasn’t been substantive litigation since the case was brought to us,” he told CBS Houston. “A trial date isn’t even set yet.”

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