DEA Congressional Testimony
June 24, 1998

Statement by:
Donnie Marshall
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice


Before the:
House International Relations

Regarding:
Heroin

Date:
June 24, 1998

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

Contents

THE HISTORY OF THE HEROIN TRADE

THE RISING THREAT OF SOUTH AMERICAN HEROIN

COLOMBIAN HEROIN TRAFFICKERS IN THE UNITED STATES

MEXICAN HEROIN: DOMINATING THE MARKET IN THE WEST AND MIDWEST

SOUTHEAST ASIA: HEROIN FROM THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

SOUTHWEST ASIAN HEROIN: NOW MORE OF THE U.S. MARKET SHARE

NIGERIAN HEROIN TRAFFICKERS: A SOPHISTICATED THREAT


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the flow of heroin into the United States. My comments today will include an overview of the heroin abuse problem in the United States and a detailed look at the organized criminal groups responsible for the manufacture and sale of this deadly drug in our communities. Before I begin Mr. Chairman, I would like to take a moment to thank you on behalf of the Administrator and the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for your continued support for both our international and domestic efforts.

Heroin is an insidious drug that quickly addicts even those who have used it only a few times. We frequently see statistics that categorize some drug abusers as "casual users." There are no long-term casual heroin users; the onset of addiction is rapid, particularly when injection is the method of administration. In the 1960s and early 1970s, we saw heroin use surge as Italian organized crime syndicates in New York imported heroin through the "French Connection." This heroin was manufactured in France from Turkish-produced morphine base and then shipped to the U.S., where it ravaged our inner cities and took the lives of heroin-addicted musicians like John Coltrane, Billie Holliday, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin.

Over the past several decades, the appeal of heroin was largely held in check. Two factors stigmatized heroin and limited its popularity. First, due to the low purity of heroin available at the retail level, the only effective method of administration was through injection, a method that most drug users found unpalatable. Secondly, as an increased awareness of the AIDS virus developed in the 1980s, many drug users chose to abuse cocaine, crack and, most recently, methamphetamine rather than risk contracting the virus through shared heroin needles.

Heroin was also pushed from the spotlight of public concern by the emergence of cocaine in the late 1970s and crack cocaine in the mid-1980s. However, while the media focused on other drugs during these decades, the number of heroin addicts in the United States continued to grow. Current estimates from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) place the hardcore heroin user population in the 600,000 - 800,000 range. The total heroin user population (including those who use heroin for "recreational" purposes) is now estimated at 2 million. Last year alone, there were 141,000 new heroin users, most of whom were under the age of twenty-six.

Why heroin and why now? In truth, our heroin problem never went away. Today, the rapid increase in heroin's popularity is being generated, in part, by the purity of the supply. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the average purity of heroin at the retail level averaged between 2% and 7%. According to the Domestic Monitor Program, the average purity for retail heroin in 1997 was 38.4%, over 5 times higher than it was just a decade ago. In fact, it is not unusual to find 80% pure heroin in some East Coast cities. At this purity level, heroin can be administered effectively through several methods, including smoking- called "Chasing the Dragon"- and snorting heroin like cocaine. These methods of ingestion are preferred by first time and casual users who find injecting heroin unglamourous and who want to avoid sharing dirty needles. However, as drug users gain tolerance, addicted snorters and smokers are forced to turn to injection which quickly leads to hard core addiction.

The second, and probably single greatest, reason for the recent emergence of heroin is the development of "heroin chic" by members of the entertainment and fashion industries. The fashion industry has glamorized heroin use by promoting the unhealthy physical attributes of heroin addicts: thin frame, sunken eyes, and pallid skin. This trend, in concert with the increasing number of celebrities in the film and music industries who have been identified as heroin addicts, has had a disturbing impact on the entertainment industry and the nation as a whole.

Recent heroin-related deaths in the music industry include Shannon Hoon of the band Blind Melon and Kurt Cobain of the rock group Nirvana. Both of these singers lost their lives while battling an addiction to heroin. The entertainment industry lost comedian Chris Farley following his death from an overdose on a combination of cocaine and morphine. Farley's death in May of 1998 succeeded the heroin overdose and death of Jonathan Melvoin of the band Smashing Pumpkins and the arrest of actor Robert Downey, Jr. on charges of heroin possession. A heroin addiction forced Scott Weiland out of his band, Stone Temple Pilots, and into in a treatment center in 1996. Weiland completed his court-mandated sentence at a treatment center, pledged that he had kicked his heroin habit, and launched a solo career in 1997. Scott Weiland's subsequent arrest on June 1, 1998 for heroin possession demonstrates the continuing stranglehold heroin has on many individuals in the entertainment industry.

Heroin abuse is not, however, restricted to the inner city poor and the Hollywood elite. Middle class teenagers and young adults in places like Orlando, Florida and Plano, Texas have fallen prey to heroin addiction as a consequence of their experimentation with high-purity dosages of this dangerous narcotic. In Orlando, over 30 deaths were attributed to heroin overdose in 1996 and, in Plano, at least 12 young adults have died from heroin abuse since 1996, a statistic that does not include the fatal overdoses reported in a nearby county.

Heroins properties initially make it seem very appealing. Upon ingestion of heroin, endorphins are released naturally and activate what is called the reward/pleasure center of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. This evokes an immediate sense of well-being and often a feeling of invincibility.

The truth is, however, that there is no romance in heroin. As with all narcotics, the pleasurable feelings of well-being and invincibility are not sustainable unless the dosages are increased. With the increase of dosages, particularly with the high purity of heroin being sold today, the onset of addiction is hastened dramatically.

Addiction takes a terrible, and sometimes final, toll on the nation's 2 million heroin users. In 1996, the annual number of heroin-related emergency room mentions increased from 34,000 in 1990 to 70,500. The Cornell University Hospital reports the number of middle class people requesting treatment for heroin addiction has increased tenfold since 1994. Many of these new users will resort to injecting heroin which, due to the high quality of heroin now available on the street, greatly increases the risk of overdose. Ignorance, addiction, and the increased purity of heroin available today combine to take the lives of between 3000 and 4000 heroin abusers annually.

THE HISTORY OF THE HEROIN TRADE

The first major influx of heroin into the United States occurred between 1967 and 1971. It started with Turkish opium that had been processed in laboratories in France and supplied through the infamous "French Connection" to Italian organized crime families in New York. These La Cosa Nostra families largely controlled the wholesale heroin trade in the U.S. in the 1970s. Aggressive enforcement and a total ban on opium poppy cultivation in Turkey substantially reduced the supply of heroin available through the "French Connection."

In the mid-1970s, heroin produced in Mexico supplanted European heroin, particularly in the West and Midwest regions of the United States. This brown heroin, frequently referred to as "Mexican Mud," was of relatively low purity and poor appearance. However, Mexican traffickers found a ready U.S. market by selling their product at substantially lower prices than European-produced heroin.

By the mid-1980s, the heroin market in the United States was shared by drug traffickers from several different nations. Mexico dominated the U.S. market on the West Coast. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Lebanon (Southwest Asia/ Middle East) and Burma, Laos, and Thailand (the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia) shared the rest of the U.S. market. Southwest Asian heroin was marketed through ethnic outlets in the northeastern and midwestern United States. Southeast Asian heroin, meanwhile, was marketed primarily by ethnic Chinese who replaced the French Connection as the major source of supply of heroin for organized crime families and other trafficking organizations on the East Coast.

THE RISING THREAT OF SOUTH AMERICAN HEROIN

Today, the U.S. is seeing increased heroin availability from South America and Mexico. According to the 1995 results of DEAs Heroin Signature Program (HSP), South America was, for the first time, the predominant source area for heroin seized in the United States. It accounted for 62% of the total heroin analyzed. Recently released results for 1996 show that heroin produced in Colombia represented 52% of the heroin seized and analyzed in the United States, a significant increase over the market share previously controlled by Colombian traffickers.

In the 1980s, while Colombian drug syndicates focused on cocaine trafficking, Southeast Asian heroin dominated the American market. To compensate for their late entry into the heroin trade and to establish themselves in the marketplace, Colombian traffickers provided high quality heroin (80-99% pure) to a fiercely competitive U.S. market. To entice customers further, they offered their product at cut-rate prices.

Heroin prices have been stable for years. Today, high quality Southeast Asian heroin costs $150,000 to $200,000 per kilogram while Southwest Asian heroin, not consistently as pure as that from the Golden Triangle, sells for approximately $120,000 to $150,000 per kilogram. Mexican heroin, meanwhile, is often priced for less than $100,000 per kilogram because of its inconsistent quality and black, tarry appearance. These characteristics have restricted the popularity of Mexican heroin to the western and southwestern regions of the United States.

Colombian traffickers began offering their product at $90,000 per kilogram- almost a 50% discount. To further consolidate their market share, the Colombians allowed heroin customers to take wholesale quantities on consignment and they forced cocaine wholesale customers to accept quantities of heroin along with their cocaine shipment as a condition of doing business. In recent years, we have seen independent Colombian groups using similar tactics in other major U.S. cities, such as Boston and Detroit, where they are pushing high-grade heroin onto the streets at extremely low prices in a bid to wrest market share from Middle Eastern and Mexican traffickers.

Today, the heroin trade in Colombia is controlled- from cultivation to transport to the U.S.- by numerous independent traffickers. The most significant of these are based in Ibaque, Medellin, Bogota, and Pereira. These cities are concentrated in west central Colombia, which has been identified as one of the more important hubs for heroin activity in Colombia.

At this time, virtually all the heroin emanating from South America is grown and manufactured in Colombia. Opium poppies are grown in the higher altitudes of the central Andean mountain ranges and they are harvested as many as three times a year. The raw opium gum produced from the harvest is sold for approximately US $400 per kilogram and transported to small, highly mobile laboratories. Heroin laboratory operators, working on commission from trafficking groups who out-source this part of their operations, convert the opium gum to high-grade heroin hydrochloride. Since 1994, the Colombian National Police has dismantled 38 heroin laboratories. The CNP also seized 26 kilograms of heroin/ morphine base and 120 kilograms of opium gum from heroin laboratories last year. U.S. estimates placed Colombia's heroin production at approximately 6 metric tons in 1997.

Colombian traffickers utilize false-sided luggage and internal body carries to transport heroin to the United States. They often send a cadre of couriers, with each courier carrying 1 to 2 kilograms of heroin, mostly through the ports of San Juan, Miami, and New York City. With a handful of couriers on each plane, a tactic known as shotgunning, the traffickers hope to distract Customs officials with one or two seizures while their other couriers slip safely through Customs into the United States.

Although they are neither as powerful nor as sophisticated as their counterparts in the cocaine trade, independent heroin traffickers are very savvy and very flexible. They adapt quickly, varying their routes and methodology to limit the success of law enforcement. Over a period of seven months in 1997, authorities at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport made ten separate seizures of Colombian heroin that had been concealed by ground crews on Boeing 767 aircraft, totalling 13 pounds. Between June 6 and 17, 1998 investigators found some 17 kilograms of Colombian heroin, sewn into pants and coats stuffed into luggage. Tests showed the heroin to be 92-94% pure.

Reacting to these seizures, the Colombians changed tactics. Investigations conducted in 1996 and early 1997 revealed that the Colombians, who primarily use Colombian citizens as couriers, were also employing a Nigerian courier organization to ship heroin to the United States. The Nigerians transported heroin in international mail packages containing 1 to 5 kilogram quantities of the drug. Other strategies adopted by Colombian heroin traffickers include sending couriers through Venezuela or various Central American countries to disguise their country of origin. A recent law enforcement investigation even discovered almost one and a half kilograms of heroin concealed in the heels of 17 pairs of ladies shoes shipped to Pompano Beach, Florida. The total street value of these shoes and the heroin inside them: $1 million.

Even with these tactics, the Colombian traffickers still needed to overcome two more obstacles in order to corner the heroin market in the United States. First, the Colombians recognized that they lacked connections to mid-level wholesalers and retailers in the urban heroin trade. They quickly solved this problem by enlisting Dominican gangs to bridge the gap. Once Colombian heroin reached New York and other secondary distribution centers on the East Coast, Colombian cell managers depended on Dominican wholesale distribution organizations to move their product to retailers. This was a logical choice as the Dominican traffickers already had established ties by virtue of their position as mid-level cocaine wholesalers.

Secondly, after the fall of the Cali cocaine syndicate, Colombian traffickers sought to minimize their exposure to U.S. law enforcement. They accomplished this by franchising a greater portion of their wholesale heroin and cocaine operations to Dominican groups. Trust, the essential ingredient in forging a successful business relationship in the drug underworld, had already been established between Dominican and Colombian traffickers through relationships formed during hundreds of smuggling ventures in the Caribbean, New York, Newark, and Boston. In time, the Dominican trafficking groups not only replaced the Colombians as directors of mid-level wholesale operations, but they also expanded their operations in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other East Coast cities.

Dominican organizations have established their wholesale operations in a wide range of places including: Manchester, New Hampshire; Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Charleston, West Virginia. Many of these cities did not previously have a serious heroin problem. With the arrival of the Dominican trafficking organizations, heroin and its attendant violence now threatens many cities.

COLOMBIAN HEROIN TRAFFICKERS IN THE UNITED STATES

New England, as a whole, is now flooded with Dominican groups selling multiple kilogram lots of cocaine and smaller amounts of heroin. Local police departments throughout the northeastern U.S. report that Dominican traffickers are moving into towns with populations of 60,000 to 70,000 people and inundating these areas with heroin and cocaine. DEA and the Hartford Connecticut Police Department recently arrested 40 members of a Dominican trafficking group responsible for the sale of thousands of heroin bags brought into Hartford from New York City. In New Haven, Connecticut, one Dominican trafficking group was responsible for about 90% of all the heroin sold in the area.

This development is not, however, unique to New England. The Philadelphia area is also saturated with Dominican traffickers looking to claim a larger portion of that market, and the Washington-Baltimore area routinely receives heroin shipments from New York-based Dominican groups. In July 1997, a group of Dominican traffickers was arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina after an investigation revealed they were transporting heroin from New York to supply private Rave parties in Charlotte. As these Dominican traffickers expanded their drug trafficking operations, the number of homicides, robberies, and assaults skyrocketed. In just a few years, the Dominican traffickers have generated their own crime wave in many small East Coast communities that are ill-equipped to deal this new threat.

Over time, law enforcement has demonstrated that the most effective way to deal with organized crime is to target the leadership of the trafficking organizations by attacking their command and control systems. This tactic was successful against traditional organized crime in America as it reduced the once powerful La Cosa Nostra to a shell of its former self. Most recently, this law enforcement strategy caused the fall of the Cali drug syndicate, without question the most powerful criminal syndicate in history.

To address the threat posed by the Colombian and Dominican trafficking groups, DEA is focusing its resources against the communications network of the Colombian cell managers, who have been sent by their bosses in Colombia to oversee distribution of heroin in the United States. Simultaneously, DEA has targeted the cartels' surrogates from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico who comprise the ever growing labyrinth of distribution networks on the East Coast. These efforts also provide us with an increased ability to build prosecutable cases against the leadership of the Colombian syndicates.

The Colombia Country Team pursues a flow reduction strategy, controlling civil aviation, destroying labs, controlling rivers, controlling chemical importation, and eradicating poppies, to keep heroin from leaving the source zone of Southeast Colombia. DEA and the Colombian National Police operate a heroin task force in Colombia, with a five-man intelligence unit and a dedicated prosecutor, supporting operations against major heroin trafficking organizations in Colombia.

DEA has increased domestic resources to combat heroin trafficking, production, and distribution in the U.S. In FY 1996, we devoted a total of 30 Special Agents and $3.965 million to domestic heroin enforcement. In FY 1998, DEA received a total of 120 positions (including 24 Special Agents) and $10.0 million for domestic heroin enforcement initiatives. Finally, in FY 1999, we have requested 148 positions (95 Special Agents) and $12.926 million for FY99 for continued implementation of our five year domestic heroin strategy.

On the international front, a portion of the $22.858 million and 75 Special Agents appropriated by Congress and the President for enforcement operations under the FY 1997 Source Country Initiative, were targeted against international heroin trafficking in South America and the Caribbean, including operations in Puerto Rico.

MEXICAN HEROIN: DOMINATING THE MARKET IN THE WEST AND MIDWEST

At the same time that heroin from Colombia is posing a major problem for U.S. law enforcement, Mexican heroin has made a resurgence. Mexico accounted for 20% of the heroin seized in the U.S., a fourfold increase from 1995. In the process, Mexico has become the second-largest source of heroin used in the United States. Organized crime syndicates based in Mexico now dominate the marketplace in the West and they hold a substantial share of the Midwest market. The popularity of Mexican heroin has increased as its purity has soared. The purity of Mexican-produced heroin has increased sixfold in the past two years, such that the average purity of the heroin seized in the U.S. has reached 60%.

Mexican trafficking organizations, primarily those from the states of Durango, Michoacan, and Sinaloa, have been able to supply heroin to markets in San Francisco-Oakland, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Historically, traffickers from Mexico used their proximity and access to the Mexico-U.S. border to their advantage. They stored large quantities of heroin on the Mexican side of the border, where the perceived risk of discovery and seizure was much lower. When a transaction was arranged, the traffickers smuggled the contracted amount, usually 1 to 2 kilograms, into the United States. By keeping quantities small, traffickers from Mexico minimized the risk of losing significant quantities of product to U.S. law enforcement. Once smuggled into the United States, traffickers used either existing networks in the Mexican immigrant community to supply the midwestern U.S. or Mexican street gangs to distribute heroin on the West Coast.

The emergence of Mexico in 1996 as the second most common source of heroin is consistent with the expansion of the cocaine and methamphetamine distribution networks of the major Mexican organized crime syndicates. Extremely pure heroin from Mexico has had a devastating impact on Plano, Texas. DEA worked with the Plano Police Department to establish an ad hoc task force to identify the suppliers of Mexican "black tar" heroin. In November 1997, a major heroin distributor from Mexico and his four associates were arrested by the task force. The heroin supplied by this organization was sold to users without first being "cut" to reduce its purity; this increased the probability of overdose and killed more than a dozen young people in the area.

Although Mexican heroin has been available in the U.S. for many years, the Plano experience clearly illustrates the threat now posed by potent Mexican heroin. International organized crime groups from Mexico are directly supplying American communities with higher purity heroin than in the past. Since the 1970s and 1980s, Mexican organized crime syndicates have had distribution infrastructures for heroin and marijuana in place throughout the southwestern and midwestern United States. Now black tar heroin produced in Mexico has become the heroin of choice in the Pacific Northwest, an area traditionally dominated by Southeast Asian traffickers pushing heroin manufactured in the Golden Triangle. In the Seattle area, now predominately supplied by Mexican organized crime groups based in southern California, we have seen emergency room mentions of heroin increase from 616 in 1990 to 2405 in 1996.

The number of large heroin seizures has increased along the Texas-Mexico border in recent years. In 1996, 54.5 pounds of heroin were seized in Del Rio, Texas and, in July of 1997, 19 pounds were seized near Edna, Texas. These large seizures are indicative of both the increased market share and greater demand for heroin produced in Mexico.

The organized crime syndicates in Mexico have grown significantly more powerful and wealthy over the last five years as their position in the cocaine trade in the U.S. has been significantly enhanced by the Colombians' payment, in cocaine, for their transportation services. After receiving as much as half of every shipment they smuggled into the U.S. for the Cali syndicate, drug lords like Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, the Arrellano-Felix brothers, and Caro-Quintero managed to establish their own enormous distribution networks in the western and midwestern United States. These trafficking organizations have accrued billions of dollars in drug profits annually and now rival their Colombian counterparts in power, wealth, and influence. In the last year, we have observed the Carrillo-Fuentes and Arrellano-Felix organizations moving aggressively to expand into the lucrative East Coast cocaine market, a traditional Colombian stronghold.

The Mexican organized crime syndicates are not satisfied with their billions in cocaine profits; they also seek similar profits in the heroin trade. We have evidence that Mexican traffickers are providing samples of black tar heroin or brown powdered heroin to contacts on the East Coast in an attempt to generate product interest. In addition, some Mexican traffickers have sought the expertise of Colombian chemists in an effort to produce high purity white heroin in their laboratories.

SOUTHEAST ASIA: HEROIN FROM THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

According to the DEA's Heroin Seizure Program, Southeast Asian heroin, once the predominant type of heroin available in the U.S., accounted for only 8% of the heroin seized in the United States in 1996. Illicit opium production and, by extension, heroin conversion activity, continued at record levels through 1997. Burma continues to be the world's largest producer of illicit opium and heroin while Laos has maintained its position as the third largest opium producer in the world.

Thailand is the center of operations for heroin traffickers and has traditionally served as a transit area for heroin shipments en route from Burma to international markets. However, an increasing quantity of heroin has been shipped along alternate routes in recent years. Traffickers have turned primarily to China, where the volume of heroin transshipped across the nation is now staggering; the Chinese claim to have seized nearly 20 metric tons of heroin from 1991-1996.

Heroin from Southeast Asia reaches the U.S. through Chinese heroin brokers who provide suppliers with connections to ethnic Chinese organizations in the United States. Nigerian and West African groups serve as an additional source of heroin; they smuggle heroin from the Golden Triangle aboard commercial airlines bound for the United States. The Nigerian couriers then unload their product, principally in the Chicago area, through their own contacts with U.S.-based criminal groups. Chicago is the only major U.S. city where Southeast Asian heroin is predominant.

Operation TIGER TRAP, a joint DEA Bangkok-Royal Thai Police investigation launched in 1994, severely disrupted the Shan United Army's heroin trafficking operations. By 1996, the infamous heroin warlord Khun Sa and many of his troops had surrendered to Burmese authorities. Burma Army troops also occupied the headquarters of the Shan United Army. In addition, TIGER TRAP led to the arrest of more than fifteen individuals for heroin trafficking. As a consequence of these developments, heroin production in Shan-controlled areas has been significantly reduced.

In 1996, Operation GLOBAL SEA led to the arrest of 34 individuals and the seizure of 56 kilograms of Southeast Asian heroin and $200,000. With these arrests, traffickers of Southeast Asian heroin adopted alternative means of transporting heroin from the Golden Triangle to the United States, most notably utilizing express mail services to send packages of heroin to the United States.

Taiwan also serves as a transshipment point for Southeast Asian heroin bound for the United States. The number of multihundred kilogram seizures in recent years attests to the volume of heroin now being trafficked through Taiwan's already busy ports. In 1991, the current U.S. heroin seizure record was set in California when plastic bags shipped from Thailand via Taiwan were found to contain 486 kilograms of heroin. Taiwanese law enforcement officials have also secured seizures of a similar volume; in 1993, Taiwanese law enforcement seized 336 kilograms of heroin in the cabin of a fishing boat.

SOUTHWEST ASIAN HEROIN: NOW MORE OF THE U.S. MARKET SHARE

Southwest Asian heroin accounted for nearly 20% of the total net weight of heroin seized in the United States in 1996, nearly double the percentage seized just four years earlier. Greater availability and Southwest Asian heroin's increased purity means cheap, potent heroin will be readily available in our communities, threatening the lives of young, inexperienced teenagers engaged in "casual use" and "experimentation."

Law enforcement efforts to crack down on Southwest Asian heroin traffickers have been hindered by the decentralization of Southwest Asian heroin importation and distribution operations. Many separate, tightly-knit organized criminal groups from Southwest Asia and the Middle East are actively involved in transporting multikilogram quantities of heroin to the United States. Penetrating the operations of these groups is difficult, as they are based on ethnic, familial, and tribal ties.

According to U.S. Government estimates, Afghanistan continues to be the world's second-largest producer of opium poppy. It is also the primary supplier of opiate products for heroin conversion operations in Turkey. Multiton quantities of morphine base and heroin also flow from Afghanistan into Iran, the Central Asian republics, and India. However, most of the opium produced in Afghanistan is transported to markets and conversion laboratories located within the country and in Pakistan. Opiates that transit Pakistan are principally destined for Western European and, to a lesser extent, North American markets; DEA estimates that 18% of the heroin produced in Pakistan is transported to the United States.

Vancouver serves as the key operational headquarters for the criminal organizations that transport Southwest Asian heroin to the United States. In order to facilitate their heroin distribution operations, Southwest Asian traffickers have established close relationships with North American gangs of Asian descent. In 1997, DEA- in conjunction with the FBI, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police- arrested 17 suspects in British Columbia, Alberta, California, Washington, and Massachusetts on drug charges. Subsequent investigations revealed that an ethnic Chinese organized crime network in Asia had transported Southwest Asian heroin via a commercial air carrier in Vancouver to Boston. The Vancouver-based cell also supplied Vietnamese gangs in Los Angeles with heroin.

NIGERIAN HEROIN TRAFFICKERS: A SOPHISTICATED THREAT

Nigerian drug trafficking organizations, which smuggle multikilogram quantities of Asian heroin worldwide, pose an increasingly sophisticated threat to the United States. Over the past ten years, they have diversified their operations by using couriers of various nationalities, backgrounds, genders, and ages, as well as by continuously altering their courier routes, documentation, and methods of concealment. Using commerical airlines, Nigerian couriers employ a wide range of smuggling methods, including swallowing heroin-filled condoms, body carry, and false-sided suitcases. They fly a variety of routes, frequently transiting other European, African, and Asian nations to hide their original point of departure.

When these tactics were uncovered by law enforcement earlier this decade, the Nigerians adopted new tactics, such as recruiting other nationalities to serve as couriers while Nigerian nationals served as decoys. In 1995, a Nigerian national recruited four teenaged U.S. females from Houston, Texas to carry 13 kilograms of heroin from Mexico into the United States. The four girls were arrested and charged with possession near Sunland Park, New Mexico.

In the 1990s, the Nigerians lost large quantities of heroin and nearly a dozen couriers annually to law enforcement operations. In an effort to insulate their trafficking operations, Nigerian traffickers in 1997 began mailing heroin- in 1 or 2 kilogram quantities- from Southeast Asia and Pakistan to the United States.

Since then, the use of express mail service has become a popular heroin trafficking method for three major reasons. First, drugs can be mailed anonymously to fictitious persons and/or mail box drops, adding an additional level of protection for drug traffickers. Arrested couriers, meanwhile, may serve as a source of information for law enforcement, enabling them to trace the heroin back to its original source: the leadership of a foreign-based crime syndicate. Second, since delivery dates can be estimated, a delayed delivery warns traffickers of a potential law enforcement trap. Third, the use of express mail services is much less expensive than the use of couriers who require airline tickets, hotel rooms, and a payoff.

The Nigerians exploited express mail services to distribute heroin in New York and other East Coast states. During 1997, there were at least ten seizures of Southeast Asian heroin that had been shipped via an express mail service from Bangkok to the United States. Unfortunately, however, this represented only a fraction of the heroin transported to the U.S. by Nigerian couriers; in the aggregate, Nigerian-controlled trafficking groups are believed to transport as much as a metric ton of heroin into the U.S. each year.

According to the U.S. Customs Service (USCS), Nigerian-controlled couriers accounted for 30% of all heroin seized by the USCS in 1994. Nigerian traffickers are most active in U.S. cities with established Nigerian populations, such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Newark, New York City, and the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. Chicago is the primary hub of heroin trafficking activity by Nigerian-led groups in the United States. Between 1993 and 1996, Nigerian-controlled couriers were arrested with 272 kilograms of heroin either in Chicago or in other locations with Chicago as their final destination.

In conclusion, heroin remains readily available to traffickers and addicts in all major metropolitan areas in the United States. Sophisticated organized crime syndicates based in Mexico, Colombia, Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia, and Nigeria offer several different potential sources of supply which complicates the challenge facing law enforcement. Increasing purity and availability, meanwhile, make heroin an even greater threat to the health and well-being of our nation's communities.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you, and the Committee, for your continued support. I want you to know that we are making every effort to halt the flow of heroin into our nation. I also want to assure you that the men and women of DEA are working tirelessly to bring to justice those who are responsible for the spread of heroin in the United States.

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to offer you our heroin situation report. I would be happy at this time to take any questions you may have.

Home USDOJ.GOV Privacy Policy Contact Us Site Map