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Man who smuggled oil into US in wine bottles gets probation

This undated photo provided by Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows Wolfgang Hans Langlois from his Hawaii driver's license. Langlois, a German citizen who lives in Hawaii, faces sentencing Thursday, May 14, 2015, for smuggling safrole oil, a type of oil that's commonly used to make ecstasy. According to court documents, customs agents intercepted a shipment and found the oil, which is legal but requires special permission to import. Defense attorney William Harrison says Langlois is a chemist and wanted to create a legal substance to help his wife with breast cancer. He expects his client to receive probation when he's sentenced. (Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

HONOLULU (AP) — A German citizen who lives in Hawaii was sentenced Thursday to three years of probation for smuggling oil that’s commonly used to make ecstasy.

Wolfgang Hans Langlois put safrole oil in wine bottles hidden in household items he shipped from Germany to Kauai last year, according to documents filed in federal court in Honolulu. Customs agents intercepted the shipment and found the oil, which is legal but requires special permission to import.

Langlois pleaded guilty to smuggling but maintains the oil was not for ecstasy but for a legal substance he wanted to make for his wife, who has cancer.

He also got 720 hours of community service as part of his sentence.

The shipment caught the attention of agents because Langlois’ name was on a watch list for people suspected of smuggling ecstasy to Hawaii from South America in vitamin and face cream jars in 2008, according to the court papers. Langlois was never charged in that case.

In August 2014, when agents in Los Angeles intercepted the shipment from Germany, they discovered 10 wine bottles containing an “unknown yellow liquid stored inside of a wooden nightstand in a suspicious manner,” according to an affidavit by a Homeland Security Investigations special agent.

Tests revealed the liquid was safrole oil, used to manufacture MDMA, also known ecstasy or molly.

Defense attorney William Harrison said Thursday his client is a chemist and was not trying to make ecstasy.

Instead, Langlois wanted to use the oil to experiment with creating a legal, non-psychedelic, naturopathic medication to help his wife cope with breast cancer, Harrison said.

“They’re both very into organic practices … they grow their own food,” Harrison said. They built their house with scrap wood, he said.

The oil was removed from the shipment and replaced with fake oil. Agents obtained a warrant to use a tracking device and then allowed the shipment to continue to Lihue, Kauai, the affidavit said.

On Sept. 19, Langlois arrived at a pier to pick up the shipment, and agents followed him as he drove home.

“Agents conducting surveillance noticed that the defendant was taking actions that appeared to be counter-surveillance techniques, such as stopping on the side of the main road without any apparent reason and by making turns while increasing and decreasing his speed,” the affidavit said. “Eventually, the defendant proceeded to his residence.”

During a search of Langlois’ property, agents found what appeared to be a chemical laboratory, the affidavit said.

The 7,500 milliliters of oil found could have produced 10,000 to 70,000 ecstasy pills, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Roberts. He estimates the Hawaii street value of one pill to be $10 to $15.

Harrison said Langlois had a chemist’s lab and “not a clandestine type of drug lab.”

In an attempt to convince the judge to sentence Langlois to some jail time, Roberts put a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent on the witness stand to discuss what was found during the search.

There were various chemicals, flasks used in meth labs and a cookbook of sorts on making chemical substances — bookmarked at the MDMA pages, said Special Agent Frank Bru.

Harrison said those chemicals could be used to make soaps and perfume.

Langlois pleaded guilty in January. In his plea agreement, he admitted he flew from Hawaii to Germany, where he obtained the oil and intended to import it to the United States without telling customs officials.

He apologized in court, saying he’s learned a lesson.

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Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa.

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