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District of Columbia Drug Threat Assessment
January 2002

Cocaine

Cocaine, particularly crack, represents the most serious drug threat to the District. Cocaine abuse is associated with more drug treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities, emergency department mentions, and deaths than is abuse of any other drug. Cocaine is readily available and relatively inexpensive. Approximately 75 percent of all federal drug sentences in D.C. are crack-related, and about 9 percent are powdered cocaine-related. Additionally, most Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigations are cocaine-related. Colombia-based drug trafficking organizations are the primary sources supplying D.C.-based criminal groups, frequently Colombian and Dominican, with wholesale quantities of cocaine. These criminal groups and other less dominant groups supply local neighborhood-based crews, typically African American or to a much lesser extent Hispanic, with smaller quantities of powdered and crack cocaine. The crews usually distribute the cocaine at open-air markets. Retail distribution networks are well-established in neighborhoods, public housing projects, and on street corners.

Abuse

Treatment admissions indicate that cocaine is the drug most commonly abused in D.C. The District had more drug treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities for cocaine abuse than for any other drug from 1994 through 1999, and that number increased approximately 510 percent from 363 in 1996 to 2,225 in 1999, according to TEDS data.

Table 1. Cocaine-Related Treatment Admissions to Publicly Funded Facilities, District of Columbia, 1994-1999

Year Number
1994 921
1995 540
1996 363
1997 1,070
1998 1,401
1999 2,225

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set.

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Cocaine abuse is more commonly associated with emergency department (ED) mentions in D.C. than is abuse of any other drug. The District had more ED mentions for cocaine abuse than for any other drug from 1995 to 2000, according to DAWN. The number of cocaine ED mentions in D.C. fluctuated during that period but declined significantly from 3,542 in 1995 to 2,830 in 2000. In 2000 the District ranked eleventh among the 21 metropolitan areas reporting to DAWN in the total number of cocaine ED mentions, compared with tenth in 1993. The District kept a similar ranking because the number of ED mentions decreased in many other metropolitan areas as well.

Table 2. Cocaine-Related Emergency Department Mentions and Mentions Per 100,000, District of Columbia, 1995-2000

Year Mentions Mentions per 100,000
1995 3,542 96
1996 3,881 104
1997 3,223 85
1998 3,718 97
1999 3,150 81
2000 2,830 72

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, Year-End Emergency Department Data.

Cocaine was the drug most commonly mentioned in drug-related deaths in D.C. in 1999. According to DAWN ME data, the District had 106 cocaine-related deaths in 1999, which accounted for 44 percent of the total drug-related deaths that year. D.C. was one of 13 metropolitan areas reporting to DAWN in which cocaine was mentioned more than any other drug.

Cocaine was the drug most frequently detected among adult male arrestees who were tested for drug abuse in D.C. in 1999. Approximately 38 percent of adult male arrestees who were tested for drug abuse in D.C. tested positive for cocaine abuse in 1999, according to the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program. (Data were not reported for female arrestees in 1999.) Approximately 44 percent of Caucasian arrestees and 38 percent of African American arrestees who were tested for drug abuse tested positive for cocaine abuse. Over 60 percent of arrestees over 36 years of age who were tested for drug abuse tested positive for cocaine abuse.

Abuse of cocaine among youth in D.C. is lower than the national average percentage. According to the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2.8 percent of D.C. high school students surveyed reported that they had abused cocaine in their lifetime, compared with the national average of 9.5 percent. Additionally, 1.3 percent of the students surveyed in D.C. in 1999 reported that they were current abusers (used cocaine at least once in the last 30 days), compared with 4 percent nationwide.

Powdered cocaine is commonly abused at nightclubs and bars, while crack is primarily abused in low-income, inner-city housing projects. Many white-collar professionals reportedly purchase powdered cocaine for personal use at nightclubs, bars, and offices, particularly in Georgetown. Crack is commonly purchased at open-air markets and housing projects.

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Availability

Investigative data indicate that cocaine is readily available in D.C. According to Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data from fiscal year (FY) 1995 through FY2000, the quantity of cocaine seized in D.C. peaked in FY1996 at 58.5 kilograms. Additionally, in response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, the U.S. Park Police reported seizures of approximately 9 grams of powdered cocaine and approximately 11 kilograms of crack in D.C. in 1999. The U.S. Park Police seized approximately 221 grams of powdered cocaine and 1.9 kilograms of crack in 2000. From October 1998 to June 2001, 30 of the 37 OCDETF investigations in D.C. were related to crack or powdered cocaine, more than any other drug. (OCDETF investigations often involve more than one illegal drug.)

Table 3. Cocaine Seizures in Kilograms, District of Columbia, FY1995-FY2000

FY Seizures
1995 33.7
1996 58.5
1997 39.8
1998 27.8
1999 23.3
2000 32.0

 Source: DEA, Federal-wide Drug Seizure System.

Wholesale prices for both powdered and crack cocaine in FY2001 indicate that both drug forms were readily available. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Washington Division and the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN), kilogram prices for powdered cocaine ranged from $16,500 to $35,000 in FY2001, while kilogram prices for crack were approximately $35,000. However, kilogram quantities of crack are rarely distributed in D.C. Generally, higher purity cocaine will result in a higher price. In FY2001 ounce quantities of powdered cocaine sold for $900 to $1,250 and an ounce of crack sold for $1,000 to $1,300. A gram of powdered cocaine sold for $50 to $100 in D.C., while a gram of crack sold for $80 to $100.

The purity of powdered and crack cocaine varies in the District and depends on the level of distribution. Wholesale purity levels have historically been high--indicating that the drug is not cut with adulterants or diluents. The Metropolitan Police Department and the DEA Washington Division report that cocaine purity is frequently at the high level--80 to 95 percent--for wholesale distribution. According to the DEA Washington Division, the purity of cocaine distributed at various levels in D.C. ranges from 19 to 95 percent for powdered cocaine and from 30 to 81 percent for crack. (Average purity levels are not calculated.)

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Violence

Distributors and abusers of cocaine, particularly crack, frequently engage in violent crimes in the District. D.C. has the highest homicide rate of any city or state in the country, and many of those homicides are directly linked to territorial violence associated with crack distribution at open-air markets. Open-air drug markets are sometimes two to three blocks in size, and distributors are often violent when protecting their turf from rival crews attempting to take over their markets. In 1999 almost 27 percent of adult males arrested for assaults and tested for drug abuse tested positive for cocaine abuse, according to ADAM data. DEA, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C. report that retail-level crack distributors often commit drive-by shootings, drug-related homicides, rip-offs (stealing drugs from other distributors), thefts, assaults, and are involved in black-market weapons distribution. In June 2000 the DEA Washington Division in cooperation with members of the Westmoreland, King George, Charles, and Prince George's County Sheriffs' Departments, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development arrested 15 individuals for distributing cocaine and committing violent crimes in D.C.

The Metropolitan Police Department reports that the availability of automatic weapons and crack is partially responsible for the high level of violence in the District. For example, in December 2000 D.C. and Prince George's County law enforcement officials arrested 22 individuals for distributing cocaine and marijuana along Georgia Avenue (parts of US 29 coincide with Georgia Avenue) and seized 11 firearms including 2 assault rifles. Law enforcement officials also seized over 2 pounds of crack, approximately a pound of powdered cocaine, a half-pound of marijuana, and approximately $20,000 in cash.

Forty-two crews reportedly distribute cocaine, often in combination with other drugs, and most engage in violent crimes. (See text box in Overview section.) According to the NDIC National Gang Survey 2000, the most violent crews that distribute cocaine are La Mara R, Langston Crew, Rock Creek Church Crew, 1-7 Crew, and the 1-5 Mob. The alleged leader of the 1-5 Mob is currently being tried for conspiracy, racketeering, powdered and crack cocaine and heroin distribution, and 14 murders. If convicted, he could receive the death penalty; the last death penalty conviction in D.C. was in 1972.


Drug Kingpin Convicted for Cocaine Smuggling

In July 2001 a federal judge in Alexandria sentenced a Miami man to two life terms without parole for importing cocaine by the ton from Panama through Florida to D.C. and for committing numerous murders, including the asphyxiation death of another drug dealer in 1991. One witness testified that the drug kingpin had also shot and killed two Dominican drug dealers in New York City while robbing them of 11 pounds of cocaine.

Source: DEA and U.S. Park Police.

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Production

Coca is not cultivated nor is cocaine produced in the District. Most cocaine consumed in the world is produced in South America. Most cocaine shipped to the United States transits the Mexico-Central America corridor. Most of the remainder is smuggled through the Caribbean corridor. Colombian DTOs produce most of the cocaine smuggled to the District.

Most of the crack sold in D.C. is converted from powdered cocaine in the District. Distributors are aware that federal sentences for distribution or possession of crack are lengthier than for powdered cocaine. Consequently, they convert powder into crack in small quantities only as needed. Some powdered cocaine is converted to crack in distribution centers such as New York City, Philadelphia, Miami, and Los Angeles before it is transported to the District.

  

Transportation

Cocaine distributed in D.C. is usually smuggled from Colombia to the distribution centers of New York City, Philadelphia, Miami, and Los Angeles before being transported to D.C. in automobiles that are frequently equipped with hidden compartments. Trains, airplanes, buses, and express mail services are also used. Some cocaine is then transported from D.C. to Virginia, North and South Carolina, and possibly other locations using many of the same modes. Interstate 95, which connects New York City and Miami, is the primary highway used to smuggle cocaine and other drugs to and from the District.


Cocaine Concealed in Hidden Compartments

In April 2001 the Federal Bureau of Investigation provided Frederick County, Maryland, officials with information that led to the seizure of 39 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated value of $4 million. The cocaine, hidden in a minivan that had departed from California, was destined for distribution in D.C. The drugs, wrapped in 33 plastic packets and smothered in automotive grease and baby wipes, were under a false floor.

Source: The Washington Post, 13 April 2001.

In 2001 DEA seized 33 kilograms of cocaine in Pope County, Arkansas, in a sport utility vehicle. The cocaine was hidden under a raised floor in the rear of the vehicle in a compartment that could be accessed only through the rear bumper. The cocaine had been transported from California and had been destined for distribution in the District.

Source: DEA Washington Field Division, Quarterly Trends in the Traffic, FY2001, Second Quarter.

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Colombian and Dominican criminal groups are the dominant cocaine transporters to D.C.; however, African American, Caucasian, and other Hispanic criminal groups also transport cocaine to the District. These groups typically smuggle cocaine in private and commercial automobiles equipped with hidden compartments, according to the DEA Washington Division. Colombian criminal groups generally transport larger quantities of cocaine (10 to 20 kilograms) than do Dominican criminal groups that usually transport between a half and a full kilogram. The U.S. Park Police, in response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, reported that Hispanic, Caucasian, and African American criminal groups are the primary transporters of cocaine to the District. The DEA Washington Division and the U.S. Park Police reported that most of the cocaine available for distribution in D.C. is transported from New York City or Philadelphia.

Cocaine is frequently transported to D.C. using express mail services. For example, in March 2000 federal and local law enforcement officials in D.C. arrested two individuals and seized 3.7 kilograms of cocaine in a package mailed from California to Southeast D.C.

Transporters use commercial aircraft to transport cocaine to the D.C. area. According to El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) seizure statistics, law enforcement officials seized 109 kilograms of cocaine in D.C. in 1995, 26 kilograms in 1996, 7 kilograms in 1997, 1 kilogram in 1998, and none in 1999. All of the cocaine was transported using commercial airlines. (EPIC seizure reports for D.C. include seizures at Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports in Virginia.) According to Operation JETWAY data, law enforcement officials seized 13.5 kilograms of cocaine in four seizures in 2000; all of the cocaine was destined for distribution in the District. Additionally, the U.S. Customs Service (USCS) seized approximately 3.9 kilograms of cocaine on October 4, 2000, at Washington Dulles International Airport from a courier carrying the drugs in a package labeled as deodorant foot powder. The package originated in El Salvador, and the cocaine was destined for distribution in the District. In May 2001 DEA arrested a number of members of an African American criminal group that transported approximately 2 to 10 kilograms of cocaine weekly on commercial airlines from Los Angeles to D.C. using couriers, primarily female. A former airline employee taught the couriers how to avoid airline security.


Operation JETWAY

Operation JETWAY is an EPIC-supported domestic interdiction program. It operates across the nation at airports, train stations, bus stations, package shipment facilities, post offices, and airport hotels and motels.

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Distribution

Colombian and Dominican criminal groups are the dominant wholesale distributors of cocaine in D.C. These criminal groups usually purchase their supplies from Colombia-based DTOs that frequently transport the cocaine shipments destined for D.C. from Colombia to areas such as New York City, Philadelphia, Miami, and Los Angeles. However, Colombian DTOs sometimes employ surrogates to distribute wholesale quantities of cocaine directly to distributors in D.C. A surrogate is usually a family member or lifelong associate of a D.C. resident, typically Colombian or Dominican, whose purpose is to distribute wholesale quantities of cocaine to criminal groups in the District.

Some members of Dominican criminal groups that are based outside the city distribute wholesale quantities of cocaine in D.C. after establishing full- or part-time residency in the District. These criminal groups generally consist of distributors that have not been able to establish a strong customer base in New York City, according to the DEA Washington Division. One investigation revealed that couriers working for a Colombian DTO in New York City or Philadelphia set up shop in a motel room or local apartment in D.C. and distributed wholesale quantities of cocaine, returning the proceeds to their suppliers. African American, Caucasian, Chinese, Jamaican, Panamanian, Peruvian, and Salvadoran criminal groups, among others, also distribute cocaine at the wholesale level, but to a lesser extent. In addition, Mexican criminal groups in the Virginia suburbs of the D.C. area have recently started to distribute wholesale quantities of cocaine.


International Criminal Group Dismantled

In 2001 DEA New York seized 76 kilograms of cocaine and arrested several members of a Colombian criminal group that transported cocaine and heroin to D.C. and Northern Virginia in private vehicles, usually in large trucks similar in size to rental moving vans. This criminal group also controlled the distribution of these drugs in both areas.

Source: DEA Washington Field Division, Quarterly Trends in the Traffic, FY2001, Second Quarter.

Colombian and Dominican criminal groups and other less dominant groups supply local crews with powdered and crack cocaine. Crews, typically African American or Hispanic, are the dominant retail distributors of powdered and crack cocaine in the District. Crews frequently convert powdered cocaine into crack before distributing it on the streets. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, at least 42 crews distribute cocaine, although additional law enforcement reporting indicates that the total number of crews may be significantly higher. (See text box in Overview section.) These crews distribute cocaine along with other drugs at open-air drug markets, public housing projects, and on street corners. Powdered cocaine is also sold in affluent communities. For instance, dealers distribute high-purity cocaine to young and middle-age professionals in nightclubs, bars, and offices, particularly in the Georgetown area.

Law enforcement reports indicate that a few individuals over 60 years of age distribute cocaine in public housing projects occupied by senior citizens in D.C. to supplement their incomes or to sustain drug habits. Most of these dealers distribute smaller quantities than those distributed by crews. They typically distribute the cocaine from their homes, although some of these dealers distribute it on street corners. For example, an 82-year-old male who had been selling drugs illegally since he was 70 was convicted for the third time in February 2001 and sentenced to 5 years in prison for selling crack from his home in the Adams-Morgan area of Northwest D.C. Police had seized 73 grams of crack and $3,740 in cash from the man.

D.C. Police Target Public Housing Complexes Occupied by Senior Citizens

In April 2001 D.C. police began to arrive unannounced at public housing complexes occupied by senior citizens. Law enforcement officials used drug-detection dogs to search hallway lighting fixtures, trash cans, bushes, fast-food bags, and other items for drugs. The searches were unique in the nation, having been requested by elderly residents of the complexes who wanted to stop dealers from peddling crack and other drugs.

Source: The Washington Post, 27 March 2001.

 


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