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Trail of suspicious package leads to opium arrest

A single glance at the package might have been enough to make U.S. Customs agents suspicious.

First, there was the size of the box, which was big enough to mail a large microwave oven. Then there was the return address, "Tehran," the capital of Iran, one of the countries named in the "axis of evil" by President Bush.

The parcel arrived in the mail at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on March 14. It was headed for a house in Oldsmar. But as customs agents scrutinized it, they found that it contained nearly a kilogram of opium.

Thursday night, investigators charged Davoud Khanalizadeh, 47, of 360 Wellington Ave., Oldsmar, with trafficking in opium after he received and opened the package.

"Sending anything from the Middle East right now is going to attract attention," said Paul Lacombe, an assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Customs office in Tampa. "The wisdom of doing that if you're in a smuggling venture becomes open to question."

After finding drugs in the package, customs agents in New York forwarded the case to their counterparts in Tampa. They brought in Pinellas County sheriff's detectives.

Working with the U.S. Postal Service, sheriff's investigators put a tracking device on the parcel and waited until it was delivered Thursday afternoon, sheriff's spokesman Cal Dennie said. Khanalizadeh's wife accepted the package and left the couple's home in the middle of the afternoon. Her husband came home about 6:20 p.m., and the Sheriff's Office served a search warrant about 20 minutes later.

The package contained 990 grams _ slightly more than 2 pounds _ of opium. The sticky, tarlike resin was pressed into sheets, placed between layers of foil and sealed in a smaller box, sheriff's Lt. Gary Brown said. That was then packed in the larger box along with candy and other food.

"This is highly unusual," Brown said, and probably one of the largest opium seizures ever made in Pinellas County. "Usually it's heroin by the time we see it."

As for the value of the seizure, Brown said opium is "like any other drug: the prices kind of fluctuate. But a kilo of opium is probably about $80,000."

If cut into smaller portions, though, an ounce might sell for $3,000, Brown said.

Sheriff's detectives are investigating who sent the box. Brown looked at the return address.

"I couldn't read the writing for the life of me," he said.

"It's going to be an ongoing investigation, probably ongoing for quite some time," Brown said. Detectives have "a lot of work to do."

Khanalizadeh, who also goes by David, was born in Iran, according to jail officials. State records show that he is a licensed mental health counselor.

An arrest report indicated that Khanalizadeh is a U.S. citizen and customs officials likewise believed that he is a naturalized American citizen. Sheriff's officials also said they had received information from other agencies in the case that Khanalizadeh has two files with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. One is as a naturalized Israeli citizen. The other is as an Iranian.

Khanalizadeh, who has lived in Oldsmar about three months, was a naval aviator in Iran in the late 1970s and he also attended Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, Brown said. He was being held at the Pinellas County Jail on Friday in lieu of $50,000 bail.

_ Researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194 or