DEA Congressional Testimony
October 20, 1997

DEA Congressional Testimony

Statement by:
Gregory K. Wiliams, Chief of Domestic Operations
and John Coleman, Special Agent in Charge
Newark Divisional Office
Drug Enforcement Administration

Before the:
Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice

Regarding:
New Jersey

Date:
October 20, 1997

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.

Contents

The Emergence of New Trafficking Threats in the Western Hemisphere

New Colombian Groups

Dominican Trafficking Groups

Protecting our Borders and the Heartland

Heroin Trends: The Rising Tide

Dominican Traffickers Role in the Heroin and Cocaine Trade

MET Initiatives

Conclusion

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to address the issue of drug trafficking in the Western Hemisphere and specifically New Jersey’s efforts in the War on Drugs. As the DEA Chief of Domestic Operations, my comments today will entail an objective assessment of the threat that we face in the United States from the organized criminal drug syndicates from Mexico and Colombia who control the drug trade in the Western Hemisphere and the effect they have on our day-to-day lives in the United States. I will provide an overview of these criminal trafficking organizations which control the manufacture, smuggling and distribution of much of the cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine in the Western Hemisphere. I am accompanied by Mr. John Coleman, the Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Newark Field Division, who will discuss the impact these organized criminal groups have had on this region and the steps DEA is taking to address the drug trafficking situation in New Jersey.

Although Colombian traffickers still control and facilitate significant portions of the cocaine trade in the Western Hemisphere, the sophisticated, organized criminal groups from Mexico have eclipsed the drug trafficking criminals from Cali and Medellin, Colombia, as the greatest law enforcement threat facing the United States today. The leaders of these Mexican groups--the Amezcua’s, Miguel Caro-Quintero, the Arrellano-Felix brothers, and until this summer, Amado Carrillo-Fuentes simply the 1990s versions of the traditional organized crime leaders that U.S. law enforcement has fought to dismantle since the turn of the century. But the influence of American organized crime pales in comparison to the violence, corruption and power that is exhibited by today’s criminal syndicate leaders.

In the 20th Century, "Traditional Organized Crime" in America rose to what was then considered unparalleled heights. These organizations were built around a hierarchy of leaders and members of immigrant background rooted on American soil. From our earliest exposure to "Traditional Organized Crime," a common thread has been, and continues to be, the violence with which these organizations are operated, expanded, and controlled. But these traditional organized criminal groups pale in comparison to the organized crime groups operating today from Mexico and Colombia. The "new mobsters" are far more wealthy, powerful, and violent than their predecessors.

Since the early 1970s, drug traffickers from Colombia have been smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana into the United States mostly through the Caribbean Corridor and south Florida. As a result of their growing notoriety and brazen actions throughout this region, law enforcement attention to the activities of the Colombians intensified. With increased law enforcement presence and enforcement in the Caribbean and South Florida, the Colombians turned to experienced Mexican drug smugglers to move their products to American markets through Mexico.

Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, his brother Gilberto along with Jose Santa Cruz Londono created, in Cali Colombia, what was undeniably the most wealthy, sophisticated and powerful organized crime syndicate in history. Orejuela and his confederates built an enormous monolithic organization that orchestrated the manufacture of hundreds of tons of cocaine in Colombia, which were then moved through the Caribbean and later Mexico, to U.S. markets. The leadership of the Cali Cartel ruled this seven billion dollar per year business, while safely ensconced on foreign soil. In short, they became the prominent "mob leaders of the 1990's." However, they were wealthier, more influential and far more dangerous, having a more devastating impact on the day-to-day lives of the citizens of our country than either their domestic predecessors that flourished in New York and New Jersey during the first two-thirds of this century or the crime families from Medellin.

Orejuela set up an extremely well-disciplined system of compartmentalization that insulated every facet of his drug business. The organization’s tentacles reached into the cities and towns of the United States, either through their U.S.-based wholesale distribution infrastructure, or their surrogates who sold crack cocaine on the streets of locations as varied as Newark, New Jersey, and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. At the height of his power, Orejuela was reportedly using as much as one-half of his seven billion dollar annual income from drug sales to bribe government officials, judges, and police officers in Colombia. Although Orejuela and his associates freely used their enormous wealth to bribe, they were just as prone to violence as the thugs from Medellin.

Just as "traditional" organized crime was addressed over time in the United States by exposing its leaders and systematically stripping away the pretense that they were legitimate businessmen, the organized criminal groups from Colombia have been eviscerated, and are now a fragment of what they once were. The Colombian National Police (CNP), through tenacity, courage and bravery that has seldom, if ever, been seen in law enforcement, faced down the most powerful organized criminal syndicates in history. Through the fearless leadership of General Rosso Serrano and Colonel Leonardo Gallego of the Colombian National Police, as well as that of General Harold Bedoya of the Colombian military, cases were built on the entire upper echelon of the Cali and Medellin drug trafficking organizations. They methodically tracked each leader down until the entire infrastructure of both mafia’s was either incarcerated or dead. There is no tribute too great for the brave men and women of the CNP, who gave their lives in this effort

 

The Emergence of New Trafficking Threats in the Western Hemisphere

When the Cali group turned to established smuggling organizations in Mexico to move cocaine to the United States in the late 80's and early 90's, these Mexican crime families, already well versed in the smuggling of contraband, received shipments of cocaine from the Cali syndicate and then smuggled them across the U.S.- Mexico border, where they were turned over to Colombian distribution cells. First paid $1,000 to $2,000 per kilo for their services, they ultimately began receiving between 40% to 50% of each shipment as payment. Amado Carrillo-Fuentes and the other major traffickers quickly amassed fortunes from the profits of the sale of thousands of kilograms of cocaine and systematically expanded their distribution networks. This changed the face of the drug trade in the United States and the organized criminal groups from Colombia lost their stranglehold on the U.S. wholesale market.

The ascension to power by the groups from Mexico has garnered them enormous wealth and a demonstrative expansion in their spheres of influence. Despite accurate reports indicating the Orejuelas have ready access to both pay and cellular phones in their cells, they are unable to control their once vast empire from jail. Consequently, their ability to function as the first among all others has been seriously degraded. There are many groups in Colombia and Mexico trying to fill the void left by the incarceration of the Cali leadership. Without question, the organized crime families in Mexico, most notably the Arrellano-Felix brothers, Miguel Caro-Quintero and Jesus Amezcua-Contreras, and, until his death in July, Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, have eclipsed the Colombian traffickers as the most dominant figures in the cocaine trade today. The criminal groups from Mexico now control virtually all cocaine sold in the Western half of the United States and, for the first time, we are seeing a concerted effort on their part to expand into the lucrative East Coast market. These traffickers from Mexico emulate the methods of operation the Colombians have used so successfully for the last decade and a half. They have become more structured in their organizations by adopting the Colombian "Cell System," which compartmentalized and insulated each function of the organization.

The majority of the cocaine entering the United States continues to come from Colombia through Mexico and across the U.S.-Mexico border. In addition to the inexhaustible supply of cocaine entering the U.S., trafficking organizations from Mexico are responsible for producing and trafficking thousands of pounds of methamphetamine annually.

A number of major trafficking organizations represent the highest echelons of organized crime in Mexico. The leaders of these organizations are under indictment in the United States on numerous charges. In order to fully expose these individuals, it is convenient to refer to them by name rather than by organization affiliation.

Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, until his death on July 4, 1997 in Mexico City from medical complications following plastic surgery to hide his true identity, was considered the most powerful trafficker in Mexico. Carrillo-Fuentes allegedly had ties to the former Commissioner of the INCD in Mexico, Gutierrez-Rebollo and was supplied by the Rodriguez-Orejuela syndicate in Colombia. The Carillo-Fuentes organization, based in Juarez, is involved in the trafficking of cocaine, heroin and marijuana, and operates in Guadalajara, Hermosillo, and Torreon, where drugs are stored in staging areas in and around El Paso, for eventual shipment into the United States. Carrillo-Fuentes’ organization generates billions of dollars a year in illegal profits and was reportedly forwarding $20-30 million dollars to Colombia for each major cocaine smuggling operation. At the time of Carillo-Fuentes’s death, his organization had become so powerful that he was seeking expansion into the traditional Colombian strongholds on the East Coast of the United States. From his base in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, his organizational infrastructure developed roots deep into the state of Texas as well as many other Midwestern and Western states.

Amado Carrillo-Fuentes was a pioneer in the use of "727" aircraft to transport cocaine from Colombia to Mexico. He became known as "Lord of the Skies" and reportedly owned a fleet of aircraft and had major real estate holdings.

Carrillo-Fuentes was the subject of more than 25 separate Mexican and U.S. investigations and had been indicted twice in Miami and once in Dallas, Texas, on charges including conspiracy to distribute cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.

At the present time, there appears to be no heir apparent within the organization to replace Amado, but his death has created chaos in his organization as former underlings battle for control. In a recent spate of violence, more than 18 people have been slain in Juarez since July, with most of the killings directly or indirectly tied to the drug trade.

The Arellano-Felix Brothers, headed by Benjamin Arellano-Felix, are the leaders of a trafficking organization which operates in Tijuana, Baja California, and parts of the States of Sinaloa, Sonora, Jalisco, and most recently, Tamaulipas. Benjamin coordinates the activities of the organization through his brothers; Ramon, Javier and Francisco. Ramon is now one of the FBI’s "Ten Most Wanted." They are arguably the most violent of the Mexican trafficking organizations and were involved in the murder of Cardinal Posadas-Ocampo at the Guadalajara Airport in 1993. Part of the Arrellano-Felixs’ signature for violence is not only in carrying out assassinations, but torturing and dismembering their victims to send strong messages to others who would cross them in their trafficking operations.

Miguel Caro-Quintero’s organization focuses on trafficking in cocaine and marijuana. His brother is currently jailed for his role in the murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena in 1985. Miguel runs the organization with his two brothers ---Jorge and Genaro--- specializing in the cultivation, production, and distribution of marijuana; a major cash crop for the trafficking organizations from Mexico. This organization is believed to own many ranches in the northern border State of Sonora, from which drug smuggling operations into the United States are staged. Despite the organization’s specialization in marijuana trafficking, like many of the other trafficking organizations in Mexico, they are also involved in the trafficking of cocaine and methamphetamine.

Jesus Amezcua heads the Amezcua-Contreras brothers organization, based in Guadalajara, assisted by Adan and Luis. They currently are the world’s largest smuggler of ephedrine and clandestine producer of methamphetamine. The Amezcua organization obtains large quantities of the precursor ephedrine, utilizing contacts in Thailand and India, which they supply to methamphetamine labs in Mexico and in the United States.

Joaquin Guzman-Loera began to make a name for himself in his drug trafficking career as an air and logistics expert for Miguel Felix-Gallardo. He was able to rise to the Patron level among the major trafficking organizations in Mexico. Although he is presently incarcerated in Mexico, Guzman-Loera is still considered a major threat by both the United States and Mexican law enforcement. His brother, Arturo, has assumed the leadership role and the organization remains active in Mexico, along the Southwest border, in the Western and Midwestern regions of the U.S., as well as in Central America. They transport cocaine from Colombia, into Mexico and the United States, for the remnants of the Cali and Medellin Cartels. The organization also has involvement in the smuggling, storage, and distribution of Colombian cocaine, Mexican marijuana, and Mexican and Southeast Asian heroin.

  

New Colombian Groups

While the Mexican groups are beginning to make their presence felt in drug trafficking on the U.S. East Coast, Colombian traffickers still dominate the movement of cocaine from the jungles of Bolivia and Peru to the large cocaine hydrochloride (HCL) conversion factories in Southern Colombia. Their fingerprints are on the vast majority of cocaine sold in the United States today. It is likely that the remnants of the Cali group, still directed by the Orejeulas, as well some Cali splinter groups, such as the Grajales-Urdinolas, are still using their established connections with the criminal groups in Mexico to smuggle cocaine to distribution groups in the United States. The splinter groups, as well as some of the new Colombian groups, are beginning to return to traditional smuggling routes through the Caribbean corridor.

The following traffickers are among the most wealthy and powerful criminals operating in Colombia today:

Jairo Ivan Urdinola Grajales and his brother Julio Fabio Urdinola Grajales head a major drug trafficking organization associated with the so-called Northern Valle del Cauca drug mafias. The Urdinolas are related by marriage to the Henao Montoya family. The CNP arrested Ivan in April 1992, while Fabio later surrendered to Colombian authorities in March 1994. The incarceration of the Urdinola Grajales brothers notwithstanding, their organization reportedly remains active in the drug trade.

The Henao Montoya brothers, Arcangel de Jesus and Jose Orlando, run trafficking operations out of the Northern Valle del Cauca region. The Henao Montoyas run the most powerful of the various independent trafficking groups that comprise the North Valle drug mafia. The major North Valle drug mafia organizations are poised to become among the most powerful drug trafficking groups in Colombia. The Henao Montoya organization has been closely linked to the paramilitary group run by Carlos Castano, a major cocaine trafficker in his own right.

Diego Montoya Sanchez heads a North Valle trafficking organization that transports cocaine base from Peru to Colombia and produces multi-ton quantities of cocaine HCL for export to the United States and Europe. DEA considers Montoya Sanchez to be one of the most significant cocaine traffickers in Colombia today.

In March 1996, Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia (aka "Chupeta"), surrendered to Colombian authorities. Chupeta is believed to have surrendered, in part, due to his fear for his personal safety and to be eligible for a more lenient prison sentence. In December 1996, Chupeta was sentenced to 24 years in prison, but may actually serve as little as seven and a half years due to Colombia’s lenient sentencing laws. DEA and CNP reports indicate that Chupeta continues to direct his drug operations from prison.

Alberto Orlando Gamboa (aka "Caracol") runs the most powerful drug trafficking organization on the North Coast of Colombia. Gamboa exploits maritime and air routes to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands, to smuggle multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana into the United States.

These new independent traffickers from the Northern Valle del Cauca have risen to prominence and are responsible for huge volumes of cocaine and heroin being shipped to the United States. Most of these new groups have turned to the traditional smuggling routes in the Caribbean to transport their cocaine and heroin to markets on the United States’ populous East Coast.

 

Dominican Trafficking Groups

These new organized criminal groups from Colombia have enlisted the aid of traffickers and smugglers from the Dominican Republic to deliver their product to market and have placed an entire command and control infrastructure in the Caribbean, predominantly in Puerto Rico, to manage the movement of cocaine throughout the Caribbean Corridor. There has been a concerted effort on the part of these Colombian groups to franchise their smuggling and transportation operations to Puerto Rican and Dominican groups in order to minimize their presence on the island. This is an example of the recent decentralization of the cocaine trade in Colombia. The leaders of these new Colombian groups are adopting a less monolithic approach in their operations, even demonstrating a willingness to franchise distribution operations in the United States.

This has effectively amputated one to two levels of the Colombian cell system and forced the Colombians to relinquish some profits and control. The cell system is still employed to provide security and compartmentalization, but it no longer exists to the extent that Colombian traffickers exert complete control over the distribution networks. They have been using Dominican trafficking groups to handle, and to some degree, control wholesale and street level distribution of cocaine and heroin in the United States. By using this approach, they may forego some profits, but they gain the insulation from U. S. justice that they desire. These new traffickers, vying for the Cali throne, understand that direct control creates vulnerability for the criminal organizations’ leadership in both the United States and Colombia.

The 20 to 30 percent fee charged by Dominican and Puerto Rican transportation groups gives them a competitive edge over the groups in Mexico, who are still demanding 50 percent of each shipment. This makes using Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic a far more profitable venture for the Colombian traffickers, and allows them to recoup part of the profits lost to franchising wholesale operations.

In the past, the Dominicans’ role in illegal drug activity was limited to being "pick up crews" and couriers who assisted the Puerto Rican smugglers in their drug smuggling ventures. Much of this has changed due to the evolution of the Dominican traffickers in the drug trade. This new breed of Dominican trafficker functions as smuggler, transporter and wholesaler in many cities on the East Coast and is able, through direct links to the Colombian drug traffickers, to dominate a significant portion of the market in major East Coast cities.

Traffickers from the Dominican Republic have developed intricate trafficking networks to distribute cocaine and heroin for the Colombians in the lucrative New York/New Jersey market, as well as in cities all along the East Coast. Dominican traffickers operate with efficiency, relying heavily on counter surveillance, and operational security to ensure success. They use sophisticated communications equipment, cloned cellular communications, alarm systems, and police scanners to monitor the activity of law enforcement. They also rely heavily on the ingenious construction of vehicle "traps" to secrete and secure their drug loads for transportation in passenger vehicles or trucks for transportation to cities throughout the Northeast.

The criminal groups from the Dominican Republic also provide a natural conduit for Colombian heroin to the large addict population in New York and the Northeastern United States. DEA’s Heroin Signature Program data from 1995, the most recent data available, reveal that 62 percent of the heroin seized in the U.S. was from South America, up from 32 percent the year before. Abuse of high quality Colombian heroin, which can easily be snorted or smoked rather than injected, the traditional method of administration, has significantly increased over the last several years, and its use has unfortunately become "fashionable" for many young people. The heroin trade in Colombia is controlled by independent traffickers who harvest the poppy in the mountainous areas of the Andes and produce heroin in small laboratories throughout the area. They then employ an army of couriers who smuggle the heroin into the United States via ingestion, body carries, and increasingly, in concealed compartments in luggage. The couriers enter the United States primarily at the ports of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Miami, Florida, and New York City, from where they distribute this highly addictive drug all along the East Coast. The Dominican traffickers have also come into their own right in the money laundering arena and have established a network of casas de cambio throughout the Caribbean and in New York.

 

Protecting our Borders and the Heartland

To shield America’s Southwest border the DEA and the FBI have launched the Southwest Border Initiative (SWBI) which targets the leaders of the major Mexican trafficking groups that live in Mexico, and control the cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine traffic on both sides of the border. This strategy is designed to dismantle the sophisticated leadership of these criminal groups from Mexico by targeting their command and control functions and building cases on the surrogate members and their U.S.-based infrastructure. The SWBI is anchored in our belief that the only way to successfully attack any organized crime syndicate is to build strong cases on the leadership by attacking their command and control functions. With the assistance of foreign governments, the long-term incarceration of the leadership will leave entire organizations in disarray.

This strategy now combines the resources of the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Attorneys’ Offices, The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program (HIDTA), the United States Customs Service (USCS), and a host of state and local counterparts. Through this initiative, we have been able to harness the investigative, intelligence and operational functions of all of the members, to coordinate joint investigations against the major drug trafficking organizations. The effectiveness of this strategy is only hampered by the difficulty of incarcerating the leadership of these trafficking empires who hide in foreign safe havens like Colombia and Mexico. By continuing to target the leadership and the infrastructure of these groups, we will steadily degrade their abilities to conduct their business in the United States.

Recently two such investigations, Operation Reciprocity and Operation Limelight, demonstrated the importance of DEA’s ability to successfully target the communications of the upper echelon of international criminal organizations. In these two operations, DEA, with the cooperation of other federal and state law enforcement agencies, targeted cocaine distribution cells commanded by the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization. The organizations that were taken apart in these two operations show that the traffickers from Mexico are expanding their reach across the United States, as far as New York City.

We started Operation Reciprocity, nearly a year ago, in October 1996, by identifying the command elements of the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization dealing drugs in New York and Los Angeles. Working through the multi-agency investigative approach and attacking their communication systems, we identified how the traffickers transported cocaine across the country in tractor trailer loads, and returned the illicit profits to Mexico in the form of bulk cash in the same tractor trailers, using drivers hired largely from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. Reciprocity resulted in 40 arrests, over $ 11 Million in cash, 7.4 tons of cocaine, and 2,700 pounds of marijuana.

Operation Limelight began in August 1996, in Imperial County, California, and focused on the Alberto Beltran transportation and distribution cell of the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization. Again by targeting the command and control communications systems of this group, we identified cross-country smuggling routes that employed tractor trailers that hauled tons of cocaine to California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York. Limelight resulted in the seizure of 4,012 kilograms of cocaine, 10,846 pounds of marijuana, over $7 Million in cash, and the arrest of 48 persons.

Operations Limelight and Reciprocity, like their predecessor operations Zorro I and II, demonstrated that law enforcement can strike major blows against these foreign drug syndicates who control the drug trade in our country. However, we will only be able to do so if we maintain the technological ability to target their command and control communications.

These organized criminal groups, whether they are headquartered in Cali or Sonora or the homegrown versions that are predators in Newark, New York, and other cities and communities, significantly effect the American way of life. The interests and concerns of these heinous criminals lie in the advancement of their criminal enterprises, and wealth that they can derive from plying their trade. They will resort to violence, intimidation, kidnaping, and murder to accomplish their goals.

These international traffickers have acted with impunity for many years and believe that they are beyond the reach of law enforcement. This arrogance extends into their drug enterprises in the United States. As we have seen with the Arrellano-Felix brothers, these violent traffickers send assassins from Mexico into San Diego to exact their revenge on those who do not pay their drug debts or who cooperate with our efforts to put an end to their reign of terror. The brazen attacks on American law enforcement along our Southwest border and in our cities and towns must not be tolerated and must continue to be met with coordinated investigative strategies that will ultimately lead to the demise of international organized crime and its destructive influence on our streets.

Applying a multi-agency approach to attack these organized trafficking groups will continue to be our strongest asset in dismantling the organized criminal syndicates that control the drug trade in the U.S. We must continue working with foreign counterparts to target the upper echelon criminal leaders, as well as their surrogates who bring violence to our communities as they poison our children.

My colleague, Special Agent in Charge of the Newark Division John Coleman, will now discuss local trends and the steps DEA is taking to address the drug trafficking situation in New Jersey.

Although the Mexican drug trafficking organizations are considered the greatest law enforcement threat facing the United States today, and pose the greatest challenge to DEA operations, New Jersey has been, until recently, only peripherally affected by the Mexican threat. New Jersey has one of the largest Colombian populations in the United States, and continues to be a stronghold of Colombian trafficking groups. The Newark Field Division concentrates its resources on the Colombian organized crime networks and the wholesale organizations who function as surrogates for the Colombian syndicates. West Africans, in particular Nigerians, are also of great concern as they bring large quantities of high quality Southeast Asian heroin to the region for sale to our burgeoning addict population.

Even though New Jersey remains a Colombian stronghold, we are seeing the impact of the expansion of Mexican trafficking groups to the East Coast. As part of Operation Reciprocity, which Mr. Williams mentioned earlier, in June of 1997, approximately 614 kilograms of cocaine was seized in a Jersey City warehouse. This warehouse was being used by Mexican traffickers as part of their transportation network running through Chicago to New Jersey, with a final destination being the drug markets of New York City. In another recent case conducted with the U.S. Customs Service, in July of this year, more than 945 kilograms of cocaine was seized from a warehouse in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, which was rented by a Mexican national who has been linked to several other significant cocaine seizures, including a 304 kilogram seizure of cocaine in Barcelona, Spain, in June 1997. In yet another example of the expansion of drug markets by groups from Mexico, as a part of Operation Pipeline, the Newark Division in conjunction with the Phelps County, Missouri Sheriff’s Department, the Middlesex County New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office, and the East Brunswick, New Jersey Police this month seized more than 750 pounds of marijuana from a Mexican organization based in El Paso Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. The marijuana was destined for a traditional Organized Crime syndicate in the New Jersey/New York area.

A recent investigation conducted by the Newark Division in conjunction with the FBI, U.S. Customs, the Costa Mesa Police, the IRS, the Hudson County, New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office, and the Los Angeles HIDTA, dubbed Operation MERY-GO-ROUND clearly demonstrated that Colombian based trafficking groups remain a dominant force in the cocaine trade in this area. MERY-GO-ROUND focused on a Colombian cell operating in New York, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Cleveland. To date, 78 people have been arrested, including 12 in New Jersey. Through September, 1997, more than 2,100 kilograms of cocaine, 75 pounds of methamphetamine, and over $7,000 in currency have been seized. The central figure in this investigation, Mery Valencia, is currently incarcerated in Brazil awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial in the in the Southern District of New York.

The common thread in each of these major operations, whether the groups were from Mexico or Colombia, was that they displayed a need for the cell-heads to communicate with both the syndicate leadership in Colombia and Mexico and their subordinates around the United States. These communications are critical to the efficient operation of their organizations and are, at the same, time their greatest vulnerability. However, this vulnerability will only continue as long as law enforcement has access to their communications systems. With sophisticated communication encryption equipment becoming available to these wealthy traffickers our access to their key communications could be severely limited or completely eliminated in the near future if law enforcement is not given access to encryption codes.

 

Heroin Trends: The Rising Tide

The cases just discussed focused on cocaine trafficking, but heroin is also a rising threat. Just a few years ago, Southeast Asian heroin dominated trafficking on the East Coast, and Colombian heroin was non-existent. As previously indicated, in 1995, 62 percent of the heroin seized in the U.S. was from South America, up from 32 percent the year before. The average purity in 1996 was 71.9 percent, while some purchases registered as high as 95.5 percent pure. Today, from New York to Miami, Colombian heroin is widely available, extremely pure and cheap. The organized criminal groups who control the Colombian heroin trade have been able to establish their substantial market share through aggressive marketing techniques, such as providing free samples to new customers, forcing cocaine customers to sell heroin or have their cocaine supply cut-off, and cutting the price of a kilogram of heroin in half, from roughly $150,000 to $90,000.

Colombian heroin is prominent all along the East Coast of the United States. Puerto Rico is increasingly being used by independent Colombian traffickers as a conduit for heroin destined for the lucrative East Coast heroin market. Unfortunately, this is bringing high quality heroin, offered at a cheap price, to the streets of America at a time when many in the fashion and entertainment industries are seeking to glamorize heroin use. Tragically, teenagers who are ravaged by heroin abuse learn quickly that there is nothing glamorous about heroin. Many begin the abuse process by administering heroin through smoking or ingestion, which they find chic and far more palatable, but they quickly find themselves drawn to injection to satisfy what is frequently called " the hook"; the onset of addiction that happens so rapidly with heroin.

Heroin of Southeast Asian, Southwest Asian, and South American origin is readily available in the urban areas of New Jersey. Of the 21 counties, Ocean, Cape May, Atlantic, Essex, and Union have reported the ready availability of heroin. Heroin purity levels in the first and second quarters of FY97 averaged between 60 and 70%. Heroin in the Newark Division, mostly from South American sources, still ranks well above the national average in purity. Approximately 38 kilograms of heroin was seized in 39 separate incidents in New Jersey during the last half of FY97. The majority of these seizures were of heroin manufactured in Colombia and occurred at the Newark International Airport from flights originating in Colombia, Panama, and Aruba. South American heroin continues to remain in the forefront of desirability, due to both price and purity.

 

Dominican Traffickers Role in the Heroin and Cocaine Trade

Mr. Williams discussed the rise of Dominican groups and their growing role in drug trafficking along the U.S. East Coast. Heretofore in New Jersey, Dominicans have primarily been involved in lower level wholesale and retail drug trafficking. Recently, we have seen Dominican groups increasingly assuming a more dominate role in wholesale trafficking of both cocaine and heroin, which they receive from Colombian trafficking groups while maintaining their role in the manufacture and distribution of crack cocaine, both in New York and New Jersey.

 

MET Initiatives

DEA has addressed the relationship between drug trafficking and violent crime through our Mobile Enforcement Team Program (MET). When invited by local police departments, the MET program sends in a team of investigators, specializing in the dismantling of violent drug gangs. The teams aggressively target and build cases against individuals involved in violent drug trafficking activities. This initiative attempts to address some of the factors that are believed to be responsible for the increase in violent crime; including increased teen violence, witness intimidation, violence within the criminal communities, and limited resources among state and local law enforcement components to combat this growing menace to law abiding citizens. After MET deployments have been completed, the local authorities can show solid statistics on decreased crime rates and measurable improvement in quality of life for the community.

There are now 19 METs strategically located across the country, which can be sent anywhere drug gangs are responsible for high crime rates and few crimes being solved. MET deployments help local authorities remove the most violent offenders from the streets and renew citizens confidence in the ability of government to respond to citizens’ concerns: drugs and violence threatening their homes. The MET program, which was fully funded by Congress in FY 1997, is based on the belief that those who distribute drugs on the streets of the United States and commit violent activities are part of a seamless international continuum of drug trafficking organizations headquartered in Colombia, Mexico, and Southeast Asia.

During August 1997, there was a three-week, intensive MET deployment requested by the Atlantic City Police Director. Surveillance and undercover drug purchases were targeted at specific street level drug trafficking groups which had been plaguing area housing developments. The targets of the operation were felons with prior charges ranging from homicide to drugs, several were wanted in connection with local shootings. The deployment ended with the arrest of 58 violent criminals.

A MET team was deployed to Paterson in March, 1996, and concluded its operations in February 1997. The MET and Paterson police targeted several violent Dominican crack cocaine trafficking groups whose leaders were all previous felons and were responsible for most of the retail drug sales in the city. As a result of this MET deployment, targets of the investigations are now awaiting trial on homicide and weapons charges. Overall, the deployment resulted in 37 arrests on federal drug charges and homicide charges. Four and one half pounds of crack cocaine, one ounce of heroin and numerous weapons, were seized during the course of this investigation.

A MET a deployment in Camden, New Jersey, from January 1995 to February 1996 focused on open-air drug markets, and resulted in 196 arrests and the seizure of 637 grams of crack, 74 grams of heroin, 85 grams of cocaine, and numerous weapons. According to Camden police statistics, there was a resulting decrease in the number of violent criminal acts in the Camden community.

 

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: the current situation in the Newark Division and other areas of the United States is serious and must continue to be addressed vigorously. Drug traffickers from Mexico and Colombia, and, increasingly, other ethnic groups, pose a major threat to the United States. Newark Division investigations show that the drug threat is not confined to border regions, or even to major cities like New York, but it is reaching even into communities such as Freehold.

Applying a multi-agency approach to attack these trafficking groups will continue to be our strongest asset in dismantling the organized criminal syndicates that control the drug trade in the U.S. We must continue working other federal law enforcement agencies, and with our state and local counterparts, just as we are working with foreign counterparts to target the upper echelon criminal leaders, and their surrogates who bring violence to our communities as they sell poison to our children.

We would like to thank you again for the opportunity to testify at this hearing, and hope that we have left you with a clearer understanding of the drug trade in the United States and how it is impacted by the organized criminals in Mexico and Colombia who control the vast majority of the trafficking networks that extend their tentacles throughout the U.S. In particular, we hope we have left you with an understanding of the drug situation in the New Jersey.

I want to emphasize that drug trafficking lies along a seamless continuum--from the source countries of Bolivia and Peru to the streets of Freehold. To be successful against these international organizations, we have to apply all of our resources to attack these groups. With your continued interest and support we will combat this growing threat through joint investigations and efforts that will yield positive results. At this point, we will be happy to answer any questions you may have on the topic.

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