Bin Wang is a chemist with an entrepreneur’s thirst.
When mega-pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. bought the drug company he worked for in 2014, it laid off all the researchers, including Wang.
The 43-year-old Chinese national struck out on his own, opening and investing in a series of companies, some of which sold fentanyl and other synthetic drugs online, leading to at least two fatal overdoses in Summit County three years ago, court records say.
Though there’s no indication Wang — who lived with his wife and teenage son in suburban Boston — ever traveled to Northeast Ohio, much of the investigation into his and others' drug dealing was rooted here.
On Monday, a federal judge sentenced Wang to 71 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy and other charges.
Court records show the long and winding investigation that ended with Wang and others behind bars stretched across cyberspace to China, but it all began on the streets of Akron.
When Thomas Rauh, 37, overdosed on fentanyl and died at his West Akron apartment March 21, 2015, Akron police found a fingerprint on the bag of street drugs, Cleveland.com reported.
It belonged to local drug dealer Leroy Steele, who was already familiar with the justice system.
Steele, court records show, cooperated with investigators, offering law enforcement a glimpse into how street drugs were flowing from China to Akron and beyond.
Steele — now serving 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to distributing drugs that killed Rauh — bought drugs from GoldenRC.com.
The website belonged to a company called Golden United Biotechnology. Its online name may sound innocuous to most, but in the drug world, “GoldenRC” is slang for "golden research chemicals,” or golden synthetic narcotics, court documents said.
The website offered 30 illegal drugs, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigator said in an affidavit, including chemical cousins of fentanyl and street drugs knows as flakka and pink heroin.
To order from this and other similar drug sites, people needed to know the chemical abstract numbers — universal unique numbers assigned to chemicals and compounds used in the scientific community. Carfentanil, for example, is 59708-52-0.
Online dealers use the numbers trying to avoid law enforcement, court documents said.
Investigators began purchasing drugs from the website and having them shipped to a post office box in Summit County.
One package, sent in December 2016, contained a synthetic opioid so potentially dangerous that investigators never opened the sealed foil envelope of drugs before sending it to the state crime lab for testing.
As the transactions continued, law enforcement sent subpoenas to FedEx to find out where the packages of drugs came from. They learned that dozens of packages were being sent and delivered to addresses at a home and industrial park near Boston. Many were addressed to Bin Wang, court records said.
In January 2017, at the request of the DEA, federal customs officials pulled Wang aside at the San Francisco airport on his way home from Shanghai.
When asked his phone number, Wang provided the same number used by the company that sent the sealed foil envelope of drugs to investigators the month before.
Investigators weren’t ready to arrest Wang yet and, suddenly, GoldenRC.com was taken down, replaced by GlobalRC.net.
Authorities believed Wang and others were trying to thwart them, switching traffic to a different site and to China-based email, court records said.
It didn’t work. Investigators reached out to the new website and continued buying drugs, having them shipped to a UPS Store in Northfield.
Meanwhile, they tracked down phone numbers and company records that all came back to Wang, court records show.
They also began to follow Wang and, with a court order, watch in real time emails that were sent and received by one of his businesses. A man from Alabama wanted to buy a particular stimulant. A woman from Maine wanted the party drug Ecstasy.
In July 2017, an undercover DEA agent called Wang’s mobile phone and told him a package of drugs had been seized by federal officials.
Wang “replied sarcastically, ‘Oh … great’,” court records said.