REMARKS OF ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT
"Operation Pipe Dreams" February 24, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)
The illegal drug trade is a billion-dollar illegal industry targeted on exploiting human weakness in order to reap billions in illegal profits. However, it is not only the sellers of the drugs themselves who are profiting from the drug trade. There is another illegal industry that is integrally linked to the drug trade. It is the Drug Paraphernalia business - a multi-million, perhaps billion-dollar industry that sells illegal products to facilitate and enable the use of various illegal drugs.
Under Title 21, Section 863(a) of the U.S. Code it is unlawful for any person:
• to sell or offer for sale drug paraphernalia; • to use the mail or any other facility of interstate commerce; • to transport drug paraphernalia; or • to import or export drug paraphernalia.
Federal law defines drug paraphernalia as those products that are primarily intended or designed to be used in ingesting, inhaling or otherwise using controlled substances. This includes items such as marijuana pipes, cocaine freebase kits, and miniature scales. Also included in this definition are the illegal products drug dealers use to "cut" or dilute the drugs in order to multiply the illegal profits exponentially by millions and even billions of dollars.
With the advent of the Internet, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has exploded. The drug paraphernalia business now thrives not only in small shops but it is now accessible in anyone's home with a computer and Internet access. And in homes across America, we know that children and young adults are the fastest growing Internet users. Quite simply, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge.
This drug paraphernalia industry, despite its disclaimers, is an industry that provides easy access to kids to purchase and use the tools needed to enter the world of drug use and abuse. Drug paraphernalia peddlers claim they are not marketing to children, yet cartoon characters are used in some of their marketing. The businesses of these nationwide distributors are virtually entirely illegal.
It is troubling enough for parents to realize that stores with these illegal products may be operating in their neighborhoods. But it is even more frightening when parents understand that with a click of a mouse, a child's room or college dorm room could become the showroom in which drug paraphernalia merchants can advertise, market and sell illegal products.
To give you an idea of some of these products, consider one such popular item on a website - "sneaky pipes." "Sneaky pipes" are marijuana pipes that are concealed inside of everyday items a student might use, such as highlighting markers, key chains, or flashlights or even in makeup items such as lipstick or mascara. Principals and teachers have frequently reported the seizure of such items.
Another alarming product on these websites: drugs that are marketed to help a drug user pass - or more precisely "beat" -- a drug test. These web pages not only offer the products, but also give detailed instructions on which products will mask which drugs and when the user should take them in order to pass the test. On some of these websites, the target consumers include pilots, truck drivers, machine operators, and bus drivers.
Let me be clear: the Internet is a positive tool to allow small businesses to reach out to potential customers 24 hours a day and provide these customers with the ability to view merchandise and make purchases without leaving home. But Internet businesses cannot sell illegal products, period.
Today, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, under the leadership of Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Associate Deputy Attorney General Karen Tandy, has taken three decisive steps to dismantle the illegal drug paraphernalia industry by attacking their physical, financial and Internet infrastructures. This has been a coordinated OCDETF operation led by the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Mary Beth Buchanan, and her staff, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
First, today we are announcing that 27 individuals have been charged in 17 separate indictments with trafficking in illegal drug paraphernalia. In all, 45 drug paraphernalia businesses have had their inventories seized, effectively putting them out of business. These indictments spread across the country - from Pennsylvania to California - and include Texas, Idaho, Ohio, Iowa, Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Oregon, Michigan, and Washington state.
The defendants have been charged with conspiracy to sell and offer for sale drug paraphernalia, with offering to sell drug paraphernalia, and/or with actually selling items of drug paraphernalia on specified dates. These charges, unsealed today, are the culmination of a nationwide investigation code-named "Operation Pipe Dreams." In addition, four indictments were brought against national distributors of drug paraphernalia in Michigan, California and Texas, as a result of "Operation Headhunter."
Second, search and seizure operations involving approximately 2000 federal, state and local law enforcement officers are taking place at numerous locations across the country. Ten of the indictments charge national distributors of drug paraphernalia. The other seven indictments charge individuals who operated retail drug paraphernalia businesses or "headshops." Today's actions include many retailers who had multi-million dollar annual sales, aided by the Internet. The anticipated market value of the seizures today is in the tens of millions of dollars.
Defendants in these cases are subject to up to 3 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. They are also subject to forfeiture of all of the illegal contraband and all proceeds from the illegal sales. Property used to facilitate the commission of the violations is also subject to forfeiture. Close to 80% of such forfeiture funds can be turned back to local law enforcement.
Third, the Internet has been illegally utilized to sell these illegal products and to facilitate large illegal businesses operating in the open. To stop this illegal activity, today, the domain names included in these indictments will be redirected to a DEA web page that will provide the following message to those who visit these now defunct websites:"By application of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the website you are attempting to visit has been restrained by the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania pursuant to Title 21, United States Code, Section 853 (e)(1)(a).
We will petition the Court to redirect an additional 15 to 20 sites within the next 30 days.
I would like to thank Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson who was instrumental in the creation of OCDETF years ago and who, through his unwavering commitment to rid our communities of illegal drugs, has made OCDETF a top priority again.
I also thank John Brown, the Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration for his leadership and the excellent work of the DEA agents who led this investigation. This is a great victory for the DEA and you are all to be congratulated.
Thanks to John Walters, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for his continued support and assistance in our efforts.
I thank the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Mary Beth Buchanan, who made the case and secured these indictments. I thank Karen Tandy, who is doing a terrific job overseeing and directing OCDETF.
Five other U.S. Attorneys' offices were involved in both "Operation Pipe Dreams" and "Operation Headhunter." U.S. Attorney for Southern Iowa Steven M. Colloton charged individuals with illegally selling and distributing products to headshops in Southern Iowa. The other U.S. Attorneys involved in these two operations were: Thomas E. Moss, U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho; Matthew D. Orwig, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas; Jane Boyle, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas; and Gregory White, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
I recognize the excellent cooperation and hard work of the other members of the task force who were instrumental in investigating this case:
Director Ben Reyna and the U.S. Marshall Service. Ben, thank you for your continued service. Chief U.S. Postal Inspector Lee R. Heath and the men and women of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. US Secret Service Director W. Ralph Bashum and the many agents who worked on this case, and Robert Bonner, Commissioner of the US Customs Service and the customs agents who are on the front lines of the drug war everyday.
Thank you all.