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National Drug Intelligence Center
Georgia Drug Threat Assessment
Georgia is the tenth most populous state in the nation with approximately 8.4 million residents. The population increased 26.0 percent from 1990 to 2000, outpacing the national population growth rate of 13.1 percent during that decade. This growth is due primarily to the state's flourishing economy led by manufacturing, service industries, agriculture, banking, and tourism. The bulk of the population growth occurred in and around Atlanta, the state's largest city. Six of every 10 Georgia residents now live within 60 miles of Atlanta. The Atlanta metropolitan area is one of the country's leading destinations for immigrants and has become a city of ethnic diversity. Consequently, it is easier for members of foreign drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and criminal groups to blend with the population to avoid law enforcement detection. Large portions of the state are predominantly rural and agricultural, rendering them ideal for methamphetamine production or cannabis cultivation.
Criminal groups most commonly transport drugs into and through Georgia overland, primarily by commercial and private vehicle, on the state's busy interstates. Approximately 18,000 miles of federal and state roads traverse Georgia including 1,240 miles of interstate highways. Interstate 95 originates in Miami and extends north through eastern Georgia to the U.S.-Canada border, passing through most major East Coast cities. Interstate 20 connects with I-10 in Texas, extends east through southwestern Texas, runs through Atlanta, and intersects I-95 in South Carolina. Interstate 75 extends from Miami to the U.S.-Canada border passing through Atlanta and other cities such as Detroit, Cincinnati, and Knoxville. Interstate 85 originates in Montgomery, Alabama, extends northeast through Atlanta, and traverses South Carolina and North Carolina before connecting to I-95 near Richmond, Virginia. Interstate 16 originates in Savannah and extends west through central Georgia before connecting to I-75 near Macon. According to Operation Pipeline seizure data, 40 of the 57 drug or currency seizures in Georgia in 2001 occurred on Interstates 95, 85, 75, or 20.
Transporters ship drugs into and through Georgia in commercial and private vehicles using a variety of concealment methods. Drugs are concealed among legitimate goods such as produce, furniture, or other cargo in commercial vehicles or in hidden compartments built into private vehicles. Transporters also commonly conceal drugs in trunks, tires, fuel tanks, and seats. Hispanic criminal groups, primarily Mexican, often transport drugs into the state in commercial vehicles, taking advantage of the large amount of goods shipped in tractor-trailers from Mexico to Georgia. In 2000 approximately 523,000 metric tons of legitimate goods were shipped in tractor-trailers from Mexico to Georgia. Only seven states--Arizona, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Texas--recorded more tonnage from Mexico that year. The sheer volume of goods transported to Georgia provides Mexican and other criminal groups ample opportunities to transport concealed shipments of drugs into the state.
Transporters also ship drugs into Georgia by air, principally via package delivery services and, to a lesser extent, couriers on commercial flights. Law enforcement authorities seized 279 kilograms of marijuana, more than 2 kilograms of cocaine, and 1 kilogram of methamphetamine as part of Operation Jetway in 2001. Georgia has international airports in Atlanta and Savannah and has 109 county or municipal airports. The William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport is one of the busiest international airports in the United States. It serves over 80 million passengers and handles almost 1 million metric tons of air cargo annually. Airlines that service Hartsfield offer nonstop service to and from destinations around the world including Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. Operation Jetway data indicate that drugs are transported to Atlanta on domestic flights from other southern and western states. Drugs shipped through Hartsfield International Airport usually are transported using package delivery services or couriers carrying the drugs on their person or in their luggage.
Commercial trains and buses also are used by criminal groups and individuals to transport drugs into and through Georgia, although these are not common modes used to transport drugs into the state. However, according to DEA Atlanta, drugs more commonly are seized from buses since September 11, 2001. Major train and bus carriers connect most large cities in Georgia including Atlanta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, and Savannah with cities used as wholesale drug distribution centers such as Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. Law enforcement officials report that drugs transported on trains and buses occasionally are concealed underneath passengers' clothing or in their shoes or luggage. Transporters also occasionally use freight rail service to ship drugs into and through Georgia, according to law enforcement officials. Two major railroads provide freight service in the state and manage some 4,000 miles of track. Another 1,000 miles of track are operated by 15 independent railroads.
There are two modern, deepwater ports in Georgia--Savannah and Brunswick. The Port of Savannah, located near Interstates 16 and 95, receives the most containerized cargo in the state and is one of the five busiest ports for containerized cargo in the southeastern United States. The Port of Brunswick handles large quantities of bulk cargo from the Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, and Trinidad. A significant amount of legitimate goods pass through these Georgia ports, and the potential for smuggling large quantities of drugs exists. However, law enforcement officials in Georgia indicate that drugs are transported via maritime methods less frequently than via private and commercial vehicles and aircraft.
Hispanic criminal groups, primarily Mexican, are the principal transporters and wholesale distributors of most of the illicit drugs available in Georgia. According to law enforcement officials throughout the state, Mexican criminal groups in California and southwestern states as well as Mexican DTOs in Mexico often use Mexican illegal immigrants as couriers to transport cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin into and through the state.
Members of Hispanic, African American, and Caucasian gangs distribute drugs at the retail level in most large cities in Georgia and, to a lesser extent, in suburban areas, smaller cities, and rural communities. According to law enforcement estimates, there are 58 gangs with over 1,950 members in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Hispanic and African American gangs are the most prevalent in and around Atlanta. These gangs almost always distribute multiple drugs. Gangs in cities such as Albany, Athens, Columbus, Decatur, Gainesville, Hinesville, Macon, Statesboro, and Valdosta are heavily involved in cocaine distribution but also distribute other drugs such as marijuana and methamphetamine. Generally, gangs in Georgia are not affiliated with large, nationally recognized street gangs in other U.S. cities; however, some gangs in Georgia including Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, and Vice Lords do have national affiliations. (See text box.)
Georgia's gang problem is unusual. Many gangs in Georgia are hybrid gangs (made up of members from different ethnic backgrounds) and are not nationally affiliated. These gangs sometimes call themselves Bloods but use symbolism from other gangs. Gangs composed primarily of Caucasians sometimes take the name and exhibit the symbols of nationally affiliated Hispanic or African American gangs. African American gangs are being challenged by an increasing number of Hispanic gangs as they attempt to carve out a niche in Georgia's drug trade. There is growing concern over the increased presence of older, more experienced gang members from Chicago and Los Angeles such as 30- to 40-year-old members of the 18th Street gang, a prominent Hispanic gang based in Los Angeles. Local law enforcement street gang units believe this growing presence to be an initial stage of organization and an attempt to affiliate well-organized street gangs with loosely organized gangs in the state. Law enforcement officials report that most violent crimes committed by gang members result from protecting turf or settling drug debts.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) have a limited presence in Georgia. Georgia law enforcement authorities report that OMGs are not as active in Georgia as they are in surrounding states, although law enforcement authorities report that OMGs occasionally produce and distribute methamphetamine in Georgia. In addition, members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club transport methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and southwestern states into Georgia, primarily to the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Drug-related crimes are common in Georgia. Aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and robbery often are related to the distribution and abuse of illegal drugs, especially crack cocaine. Some gangs in Georgia have "robbing crews." These crews conduct home invasions that typically target rival drug dealers. In December 2001 a man was shot and killed in Savannah after an attempted home invasion robbery. The robber reportedly was attempting to steal a cache of marijuana stashed in the apartment. Gun-related crimes are closely linked to the drug trade in Georgia. Law enforcement authorities report that there have been instances where weapons have been traded for drugs.
The percentage of Georgia's population that abuses illicit drugs is comparable to the percentage nationwide. According to data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), in 1999--the most recent year for which these data are available--5.7 percent of Georgia residents abused an illicit drug in the month prior to the survey compared with 6.3 percent nationwide.
A large percentage of adult male arrestees in Atlanta tested positive for drug abuse. According to 2000 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program data, 70 percent of adult male arrestees in Atlanta tested positive for the use of any drug--a category that includes cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, and PCP (phencyclidine). Over 19 percent tested positive for the use of multiple drugs. Nearly one-half (48%) of adult male arrestees tested positive for cocaine, 38 percent tested positive for marijuana, and 3 percent tested positive for heroin.
The percentage of drug-related federal sentences in Georgia is comparable to the national percentage. In fiscal year (FY) 2000 drug-related sentences accounted for 38 percent of all federal sentences in Georgia, compared with 40 percent of all federal sentences nationwide, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC). While calendar year (CY) and FY data sets cannot be directly compared, USSC FY data reflect similar trends to CY data used throughout this report. Cocaine-related sentences accounted for the largest percentage of drug-related federal sentences in Georgia; approximately 55 percent involved powdered or crack cocaine compared with 44 percent nationally.
The financial impact on Georgia's government from substance abuse-related costs and services is significant. In 1998--the most recent year for which these data are available--Georgia spent over $1.5 billion on substance abuse-related costs and services across program areas including justice, education, health, child-family assistance, mental health-developmental disabilities, public safety, and the state workforce. This figure amounted to nearly 10 percent of the total expenditures for the state. When factoring in the cost of lost productivity and nongovernmental expenses by private social services, estimates for total substance abuse-related costs are even higher.
Drug money laundering is a serious problem in Georgia, primarily in Atlanta. The state's transportation infrastructure, international banks, ethnic diversity, and proximity to drug source countries and Caribbean financial havens make it attractive to money launderers. Criminal groups use various methods to launder drug proceeds in Georgia. Money launderers structure bank deposits, transport bulk shipments of cash, and use wire transfers to launder illicit funds. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimate that criminal groups transfer--primarily to Mexico and Colombia--approximately $2,000,000 per week from money remitting businesses in Georgia. Law enforcement officials report that criminal groups regularly structure bank deposits to avoid reporting requirements. Criminal groups transport bulk currency using couriers in overland conveyances and, to a lesser extent, aboard commercial aircraft. Law enforcement officials in Georgia seized over $1.07 million as part of Operation Pipeline and nearly $1.06 million as part of Operation Jetway in 2001. Most of this currency was destined for southwestern states and southern Florida where it is either transported out of the country or is laundered. Other money laundering methods used in Georgia include purchasing assets such as automobiles or real estate.
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