Donald Igwebuike left Nigeria to find fame and fortune kicking field goals in the National Football League. Many of his countrymen, federal drug officials say, try a different path to fortune: heroin smuggling. Now drug agents are investigating whether Iggy, as he's known to fans, crossed that path too.
Federal officials say Nigerians have emerged as the premier "swallowers" of international smuggling. For a price, they gulp down sealed packets of heroin, fly around the world, and deliver the drug with the aid of laxatives.
The recent arrest of a Nigerian from Tampa, who landed at Orlando with a stomach full of heroin, led to news leaks of Igwebuike's possible involvement. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, who was released by the team earlier this year and now plays for the Minnesota Vikings, has been interviewed by Customs agents. They have searched his Minneapolis apartment, but he has not been charged.
A federal grand jury that last month indicted the other Nigerian on heroin charges is scheduled to meet again today in Tampa.
But the national focus on a well-paid professional athlete raises the question of whether Igwebuike could have been drawn into crime because of his Nigerian roots, or has been wrongly suspected because of his nationality.
Over the past few years, airport inspectors in the United States and Europe have begun arresting so many nervous Nigerians with drug-laden intestines that nearly all passengers from that country have become suspect.
At Orlando International Airport last month, drug investigators made the arrest that led to Igwebuike. Maduwuba Oluchukwa Ibekwe, of Tampa, was carrying 28 packets of heroin in his digestive tract, according to a federal indictment in Tampa.
Two days later, Ibekwe led agents to Ibezim Ofedu, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who was arrested in Tampa after accepting delivery of about 400 grams of heroin from an undercover Customs agent.