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'Rented' Babies Used By Drug Ring

A Chicago woman recruited mothers to rent their babies to an international drug ring that used the infants as cover while smuggling cocaine into the U.S. in baby formula cans, federal prosecutors said.

Selina Johnson, 29, pleaded guilty Thursday to drug conspiracy charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Levine said Johnson was a major player in the drug ring. She persuaded parents to allow their infants to be used as decoys over an eight-month period, ending in July 1999, on smuggling trips between Panama, the U.S. and England by offering them drugs and money, prosecutors said.

The drugs were sold in Chicago, New York, London and Birmingham, England.

Prosecutors said Johnson rented one infant six times, once when the girl was 3 weeks old, from her parents for $300 to $400 and four bags of marijuana each time the child was used as a decoy.

One of the couriers Johnson used to smuggle drugs, Janice Malone, 37, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for transporting 18 formula cans filled with liquid cocaine from Chicago to London, as well as smuggling as many as 12 cocaine-filled cans into the U.S. from Panama.

Johnson and Malone are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 17.

So far, 38 of the 54 defendants charged in the case have pleaded guilty and 11 others are awaiting trial, Levine said. Three are fugitives and two are in custody in other countries.

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