DEA Congressional Testimony
March 20, 2000


Statement by:

Michele M. Leonhart
Special Agent in Charge
Los Angeles Field Division
Drug Enforcement Administration


Before the:

House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources

Date:

March 20, 2000

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


Responding to Drug Challenges in Hawaii:

Chairman Mica, Congresswoman Mink and Members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today and discuss the drug-related issues facing the State of Hawaii. I would first like to thank the Subcommittee for its continued support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and overall support of drug law enforcement. My testimony today will provide you with an objective assessment of the law enforcement issues surrounding the drug threat throughout the state of Hawaii.

Hawaii's position in the national drug market is unique due primarily to its location, and it's isolation from the mainland United States. Illicit drugs, like other commodities here in Hawaii, command a premium price within the state. Drug trafficking organizations have found it extremely profitable to establish distribution outlets here. With profit margins in excess of 300% from those on the mainland, traffickers are willing to take the risks associated with drug trafficking. These high profits, associated with smuggling the contraband into Hawaii, far out weigh potential criminal sanctions. For example, a pound of Methamphetamine can be purchased for $10,000 to $15,000 in California. That same pound will sell for $30,000 to $35,000 here in Hawaii.

Throughout the State of Hawaii, all types of drugs are available. Most drugs are smuggled into the area from the mainland United States, principally California, either by courier or via a mail service such as UPS, Fed-Ex, USPS or others. Recently, even marijuana, which is cultivated here in abundance, has been intercepted in transit from British Columbia, Canada, destined for Hawaii. Since Hawaii is an island state surrounded by water, the threat for introduction of drugs by means of vessel is always present. Historically, however, the preferred method has been by way of commercial air travel. The drugs are either concealed in accompanying baggage, hand carried baggage or "body carried".

The most alarming trend is the fact that the quantities of drugs entering Hawaii, or accessible in Hawaii are increasing at a rapid rate. This is not only true on Oahu, but on the neighbor islands as well. Methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine are among the most popular drugs that are brought into the State.

The Methamphetamine Challenge:

Methamphetamine which in its crystallized form, is called "ice", remains the principal drug of choice in Hawaii. Historically, Mexican organizations operating clandestine Methamphetamine laboratories and drug distribution networks based in California were the primary sources for Methamphetamine entering Hawaii.

Since early 1999, Hawaii retail/wholesale prices for crystal Methamphetamine have remained stable following an abrupt increase experienced in 1997. During the past ten to twelve months, we have noticed an increased involvement by Hispanic drug traffickers in all facets of drug trafficking here in Hawaii. Previously, Mexican, or Hispanic drug traffickers occupied the positions of "sources of supply" for the Methamphetamine coming into Hawaii. Local drug trafficking groups, utilizing local networks, distributed the drugs once they got to Hawaii. It appears however, that the Mexican/Hispanic trafficking groups have moved into the "distribution" aspect of the drug business as well.

As I've said, both Methamphetamine powder and the more refined crystal "ice" are brought into the State. There is however only limited use of powdered Methamphetamine in Hawaii. Most users prefer the "ice" form of the drug, which is ingested by smoking. This preference for "ice" has created a new problem for drug enforcement officers in Hawaii. The conversion of Methamphetamine into "ice" requires some type of clandestine laboratory activity, from the very crude to the somewhat sophisticated. The emergence of these clandestine laboratories here in Hawaii poses a very real threat to the safety of the community.

Up until late 1998, the laboratories seized were relatively small and restricted to the conversion process, i.e., converting powdered Methamphetamine to crystal "ice." The potential for a fully functional Methamphetamine/Ice production laboratory was realized in late 1999, when a clandestine laboratory site was located and dismantled on the Island of Maui.

Regardless of its size, any laboratory activity can prove lethal to those who work in it, as well as those who live near by. The lack of proper ventilation and temperature controls at a clandestine laboratory creates a potential for fires, explosions and harmful chemical exposure to people. All persons, but particularly children and infants, are susceptible to permanent health damage resulting from inhalation of chemical fumes.

(As an example of the potential for disaster, in late 1999, a subject was arrested in a Waikiki hotel after he caused the fire alarm to activate. Security personnel found the hallway leading to the suspect's room fully engulfed in smoke. The room itself was also filled with smoke. This individual had been converting powder Methamphetamine to "ice" in a hotel room that had a kitchenette. Although this situation was contained, it could easily have escalated into a major emergency.)

For each pound of Methamphetamine produced, an estimated five to six pounds of toxic waste is generated. Although conversion laboratories (Methamphetamine to ice) result in a lesser amount of leftover toxic materials, that waste is never disposed of properly. Once these by-products are introduced into the environment via "dump sites", contamination, explosions, chemical fires or other hazardous conditions may occur. Residential properties that are used for clandestine production and/or dumpsites can be declared "contaminated" by the Environmental Protection Agency, thereby making any future use or sale of such property impossible without incurring huge "clean up" costs.

In Hawaii, as well as on the national level, the incidences of Methamphetamine abuse and Methamphetamine-related criminal activity has continued to increase over the past two years. The latest drug treatment data available indicates that Methamphetamine was the primary drug reported by subjects seeking voluntary drug rehabilitation treatment in Hawaii. All too often, parental use of "ice" results in incidents of serious child abuse.

  • Among Hawaii State and federal parolees testing positive for drugs, 51% and 37% (respectively) used Methamphetamine. (May 1999 Report prepared by University of Hawaii and the Hawaii State Attorney General's Office)

  • Many other crimes committed in Hawaii show a direct relationship to the use and trafficking of Methamphetamine, including homicides, armed robberies, domestic violence, and property crimes.

The Heroin Challenge:

Today, Hawaii faces an increasing threat of "Black Tar" heroin use. The drug, which is manufactured in Mexico, is readily available throughout Hawaii. Hispanic trafficking groups, working in concert with relatives and associates on the mainland, and in Mexico, control the distribution of heroin from entry point to street sales. The "Black Tar" heroin is smuggled into Hawaii in multi-ounce and multi-pound quantities primarily from the Los Angeles area, via commercial air courier or through parcel services. Hispanic and Mexican Nationals, involved with the heroin trafficking trade in Hawaii are rotated frequently, between the islands, and back and forth to the mainland and Mexico. The traffickers do this in order to maintain "low profiles" within the community, and confuse law enforcement efforts. When encountered by local police, these traffickers claim to not speak any English, and thereby thwart any efforts by the police to positively identify them.

Although Heroin-related deaths on the mainland have decreased over the past two years, it should be noted that the heroin user population is increasing, and that new users are of a younger age. Street dealers actually recruit new customers by soliciting around schools and or near drug treatment programs. This latter methodology was initiated by Mexican, "Black Tar", traffickers operating in Hawaii. The quality of street heroin available in Hawaii is extremely high, usually in the 50-70% range. Considering this factor, addiction may occur much more rapidly, and the probability of an accidental overdose will be greater for the inexperienced user.

The Cocaine Challenge:

Cocaine in kilogram quantities is readily accessible throughout the State. The use and street sales of "crack" cocaine, which is cocaine base, has remained stable over the past year. "Crack" is a drug commonly encountered among "street people", including prostitutes and the homeless. The means of ingesting "Crack cocaine" is by smoking, whereas cocaine powder is snorted or injected. Cocaine does not have the popularity of "ice" in Hawaii, but is readily available from heroin or "ice" dealers. It is often used in combination with other drugs or alcohol, and it is less expensive than "ice".

The Marijuana Challenge:

Marijuana production continues to be a significant problem within the State of Hawaii. Hawaii has always had the dubious distinction of supplying some of the best marijuana in the world. Marijuana is another drug of choice among Hawaii residents, which unfortunately includes many middle and high school students.

Marijuana cultivators, active on all the major Hawaiian Islands, pose an ever-changing menace to the environment and public domain. Growers utilize both public and private lands to further their industry with little regard for others, and, in fact, often intimidate hikers and hunters who inadvertently "trespass" onto their "grow sites".

  • The Honolulu Prosecutor's Office reported that one-half of the drug-related traffic offense convictions in 1999 pertained to marijuana usage.

Other Drugs, The Challenge:

MDMA, GHB, Rohypnol and steroids are available in Hawaii, and are used and distributed at fitness and dance clubs frequented by the late teen/early twenties crowd. GHB and Rohypnol are known as "date rape" drugs. Several GHB clandestine laboratories were seized in the State during the last two years.

DEA's Counter-Drug Strategy, State of Hawaii:

The DEA Honolulu office rarely conducts any unilateral investigations. The Honolulu District Office of the DEA has close working relationship with all four local county police departments as well as the State and other federal agencies engaged in drug law enforcement. It would be virtually impossible for DEA to successfully pursue the majority of its investigations in Hawaii, and the pacific area without this cooperative effort.

The Honolulu District Office participates in the "Weed and Seed" program, managed by the United States Attorney's Office. This is another example of successful joint efforts between federal, state and local authorities. In 1998 and 1999, two downtown Honolulu areas, Chinatown, and a housing project, were selected for intense penetration by the multi-agency "Weed and Seed" task force. Due to an intense effort by the Honolulu Police Department, over 100 arrests were made. The majority of the defendants were prosecuted federally. Several businesses were seized as a result of the drug trafficking activity that was being condoned by the owners. The FY 2001, the "Weed & Seed" initiative, I am told, will focus on another area of Oahu that has a high incidence of drug abuse, poverty and criminal activities affecting the quality of life for the residents in the area. The "Weed and Seed" program not only brings law enforcement together, but other non-law enforcement state and federal agencies as well.

In 1999, the State of Hawaii was designated as a "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)", which again provides for cooperative law enforcement approaches to the drug trafficking situation throughout the state. HIDTA funding should provide a much-needed "shot in the arm" for state, local and federal drug enforcement units in Hawaii. These additional resources, will enable the four county police departments, and the state and federal agencies with drug interdiction programs, to combine their efforts and focus their resources to make the greatest impact on the drug trafficking problem that faces Hawaii today.

As I've already stated, the primary threat that Hawaii faces is our inability to attack the traffickers at the point that they are most vulnerable, which is at the airports. Drug traffickers are aware of the success of the drug interdiction program that has been in place at the Honolulu International Airport for several years, and have moved their operations to the airports located on the neighboring islands. The HIDTA Executive Committee is aware of this shift in the trafficking pattern and is taking steps to insure that this threat is addressed as soon as the HIDTA is fully functional. We at DEA will be participating and supporting this HIDTA initiative by providing manpower, expertise in airport operations, and an interstate communications network to provide drug transportation intelligence rapidly. We plan to actively participate in the Intelligence Center that the HIDTA is creating and be available to assist the four county police departments and state agencies with the development of their individual Initiatives. If we are successful in this endeavor, the drug traffickers will be forced to find another means of getting their illegal drugs into the State of Hawaii.

We are working with local police and state agencies at the county level to continue to identify, infiltrate, and disrupt clandestine laboratory activity in all four of the counties in Hawaii. We will direct our intelligence sources to be on the lookout and report immediately any type of clandestine laboratory activity. We will continue to provide Clandestine Laboratory Site clean up funds whenever they are available to assist Hawaii with the expensive task of disposing of the precursor chemicals and hazardous waste products that the clandestine laboratories create.

We recently provided Clandestine Laboratory training to three Honolulu Police Department officers and two State Narcotics Enforcement Division agents back at our training center in Quantico, Virginia. Our Honolulu District Office is always on the alert to offer these training opportunities whenever they are available.

The Honolulu District Office will continue to initiate drug investigations targeting the highest level traffickers within the State of Hawaii. We will continue to use our very successful "undercover" techniques, as well as financial and electronic investigative techniques that have improved vastly over the past year.

The Honolulu District Office will continue to coordinate and manage the Drug Enforcement Administration's Domestic Cannabis Eradication and Suppression Program. We will continue to plan, help execute, and fund operations directed at eradicating domestically grown marijuana. We will continue to perform this function in coordination with the four counties within the State of Hawaii, and make our resources available to them as they are needed.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as we speak, the Honolulu District Office is conducting two major drug trafficking initiatives targeting drug trafficking groups operating in Hawaii. These enforcement efforts are being made in concert with the Honolulu Police Department, the Maui Police Department, the Hawaii Police Department, the Kauai Police Department, the Honolulu Office of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the United States Customs Service. This type of investigation, demanding the participation of multiple agencies, will become the "norm" rather than the "exception" in the months and years to come.

Chairman Mica, Congresswoman Mink, I thank you for providing the opportunity to address this Subcommittee and I look forward to taking any questions you may have on this important issue.

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