DEA Congressional Testimony
April 14, 1998

DEA Congressional Testimony

Statement by:
R. Lamere
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice

Before the:
Senate Drug Caucus

Regarding:
Iowa

Date:
April 14,1998

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

Senator Grassley and members of the community: Thank you for the invitation to testify on the subject of methamphetamine and specifically on Iowa’s efforts to combat the methamphetamine trade.

Methamphetamine trafficking has had a devastating effect on America’s landscape during its rapid spread across the country over the last 4 years. We, in DEA, as well as our state and local law enforcement counterparts, are well aware of the abuse, danger and violence commonly associated with the methamphetamine trade.

Until recently, methamphetamine trafficking and production in the U.S. was controlled by outlaw motorcycle gangs operating independent drug trafficking networks around the country. Today, although outlaw biker gangs continue to produce and distribute methamphetamine, the large-scale trafficking and production of this dangerous drug is controlled by drug syndicates from Mexico and thousands of small, independent, trafficking organizations which run "mom and pop" laboratories in the Midwest, capable of small-scale methamphetamine production.

Unlike the cocaine business, where Mexican traffickers rely heavily on Colombians as their primary suppliers, Mexican organized crime groups do not rely on outside sources for methamphetamine. They control all of the production, the transportation, the distribution, and garner all of the profits associated with methamphetamine trafficking.

The Mexican traffickers’ dominance over the methamphetamine market is largely attributable to the fact that Mexican organized crime has established access to enormous quantities of ephedrine from wholesale sources of supply on the international market and are regularly producing unprecedented quantities of high-purity methamphetamine in "superlabs" in Mexico and California.

Due to methamphetamine's increasing popularity in the West and its rapid spread eastward, an increasing number of independent trafficking and production networks are being established, feeding the habits of customers typically found outside the major Mexican trafficking organizations’ predominant areas of influence.

These independent networks, which have proliferated in the Midwest, and more recently on the East Coast, are appealing to users in rural areas, middle class suburbs, and on college campuses

The illicit manufacture of methamphetamine in smaller laboratories, run by independent traffickers in the Midwest, can take place anywhere the operator can set up laboratory equipment to synthesize the product. The caustic, flammable and explosive chemicals required by "cooks" to produce methamphetamine endanger the lives of not only the criminals, but innocent bystanders as well.

Methamphetamine cases now dominate the investigative activity of the law enforcement community in Iowa. Two factors generate the increase in methamphetamine availability: the presence of Mexican trafficking organizations and the upsurge of in-state clandestine laboratory activity.

These organizational distribution chains end in smaller Midwestern cities with existing Mexican-American populations. There is also a significant ethnic Mexican workforce in the agricultural industry which affords these Mexican trafficking organizations a ready-made infrastructure within which they can distribute methamphetamine.

Traffickers use a variety of methods to smuggle methamphetamine into Iowa, but private vehicle is the most frequent mode of transportation. Just last month US News & World Report was quoted as saying ..."there is a direct pipeline of methamphetamine from Mexico to Marshalltown" Iowa.

DEA arrest statistics for Iowa clearly illustrate the dominance of methamphetamine in the state’s drug market. In Fiscal Year 1997, DEA made 201 arrests, of which 126 were methamphetamine-related. In the first quarter of Fiscal Year 1998, DEA has made 111 arrests, with 74 for methamphetamine offenses.

A recent Cedar Rapids investigation involved a Mexican distribution organization transporting multi-pound quantities of methamphetamine from California to Iowa, from where it was distributed throughout the Midwest. This investigation culminated in a 37 pound seizure of methamphetamine and numerous Federal arrests.

On March 25,1998, 21 kilograms of methamphetamine were seized by the Colorado Highway Patrol from two individuals, one a Sioux City, Iowa resident, who were en route to Sioux City at the time of arrest.

On February 15, 1996, the Cedar Rapids Police Department, with assistance from the DEA, arrested two Mexican nationals on methamphetamine-related charges. One of the defendants was armed and a primary suspect in a drive-by shooting at a Muscatine, Iowa police officer’s home. Follow-up investigations linked this seizure to a criminal organization in Southern California with direct ties to Michoacan, Mexico.

Violence is attendant to all levels of the methamphetamine trade. Innocent victims all too often are caught in the fray. In Iowa, methamphetamine is cited as a contributing factor in an estimated 80 percent of domestic violence cases.

Clandestine laboratories are so dangerous that many are not found by law enforcement, but by fire and rescue units after the laboratories have caught fire or exploded. In April 1997, a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory in New Mexico exploded, destroying a house trailer and killing the laboratory operator. The explosion was so severe that it blew out the windows in adjacent trailers.

Clandestine methamphetamine laboratories are found in both rural and urban areas of the Midwest. Precursor ingredients can be obtained in bulk from trafficking networks in Mexico. Smaller precursor quantities may also be obtained through legitimate chemical supply companies and retail outlets. Newly developed recipes for the manufacture of methamphetamine utilize a "cold" ephedrine reduction method that creates little odor, which allows the cook to produce methamphetamine in densely populated areas without fear of detection. Many of these laboratories have been seized in hotel rooms, mobile homes, recreational vehicles, and commercial storage lockers.

Besides housing highly toxic, explosive chemicals, many methamphetamine laboratories are protected by booby traps and well-armed operators.

 The potential public health and environmental damage of one clandestine laboratory can place an entire community at risk. The risk of explosion and fire are great. These same toxic chemical substances that create such a large risk of explosion and fire at clandestine laboratory sites, generate hazardous chemical by-products once the manufacturing process is complete. Careless operators typically dump their acidic "sludge" on the ground, in nearby streams and lakes, local sewage systems, or septic tanks.

Because of the dangers associated with these laboratories, close cooperation with state and local law enforcement is essential. The clean-up of a seized clandestine drug laboratory site is a complex, dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming undertaking.

DEA has already taken important steps to address the growing menace of methamphetamine. In FY 1996, DEA seized a record number of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories, 903, and made 3,920 methamphetamine-related arrests. By the close of FY 1997, DEA had eclipsed its FY 1996 record for methamphetamine laboratory seizures, by recording a total of 1,366 seizures. Since 1993, seizures of clandestine laboratories in Iowa by DEA have increased from three to seventeen in 1997.

Since 1996, DEA has contributed over $17 million dollars to support over 100 organized crime methamphetamine investigations, in more than 30 cities. More than 1,000 wire-taps, including almost 400 this year already, have been employed to identify and incarcerate the members of these criminal groups responsible for methamphetamine production and distribution. Much of the focus of this effort has been directed at major methamphetamine trafficking networks controlled by Mexican crime syndicates.

Our approach to addressing the methamphetamine trafficking will continue to attack the problem on all fronts:

Increasing domestic enforcement

Enhancing chemical control

Expanding intelligence efforts and

Improving environmental protection

Given the inherent dangers posed by clandestine laboratory proliferation throughout the country, the National Methamphetamine Strategy has mandated the establishment of a National Clandestine Laboratory Database (NCLDB). The NCLDB will give Federal, state and local drug law enforcement centralized intelligence on all clandestine laboratory seizures by collecting, storing and processing information for approximately 3,000 law enforcement agencies located throughout the U.S.

Drug traffickers are adopting increasingly sophisticated methods to obtain the chemicals needed to produce methamphetamine. In the U.S., rogue chemical companies, supply precursor and essential chemicals to methamphetamine producers on both sides of the border.

In recent years, DEA’s chemical investigations have expanded rapidly to keep pace with the spread of methamphetamine trafficking and abuse across the U.S. An example of this is evidenced in DEA’s Special Enforcement Program, OPERATION BACKTRACK, which was initiated in February 1997. The operation targets rogue chemical companies and other independent operators who distribute enormous quantities of precursor chemicals which are diverted to the illicit manufacture of controlled substances.

 One of the major concerns expressed by state and local law enforcement officers has been the need for specialized training in clandestine laboratory investigations. In 1998, through Community Oriented Police Services funding DEA has received $5.0 million for lab cleanup adn $4.5 million which will be used for training state and local officers. DEA anticipates training up to 1,600 state and local law enforcement officers over the next two years.

 

Conclusion

Senator Grassley and members of the community: the current situation in the St Louis Field Division and other areas of the United States is serious and must continue to be addressed vigorously.

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 situation in Iowa and how it is shaped by international criminal organizations that control the vast majority of the trafficking networks that are based in Mexico and Colombia. To be successful against these international organizations, we have to apply all of our resources to attack these groups with our host counterparts on an international level and attack their surrogate distribution cells that operate on American soil. With your continued interest and support, we will continue to combat this growing threat through joint investigations and efforts that will yield positive results.

We will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

 

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