DEA Congressional Testimony

Statement of

Jeffrey D. Sweetin
Special Agent in Charge
Denver Field Division
Drug Enforcement Administration

Regarding

“The Methamphetamine Epidemic in Colorado”

Before The  

House Government Reform Committee
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources

July 7, 2006
Loveland Municipal Building
500 East Third Street
Loveland, Colorado 80537


INTRODUCTION

Chairman Souder, and distinguished Members of Congress, my name is Jeffrey Sweetin, and I am the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Denver Field Division, which covers all of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. On behalf of the DEA Administrator, Karen P. Tandy, I appreciate your invitation to testify today regarding the DEA’s efforts to combat methamphetamine in the State of Colorado.

OVERVIEW

Methamphetamine is not new to the Rocky Mountain region. Law enforcement has been combating methamphetamine for well over two decades, and we have witnessed firsthand the effects of this drug on the communities it has touched. Methamphetamine has spread eastward across the country, leaving few places in the United States untouched. Methamphetamine is a significant drug threat in the State of Colorado, and the DEA continues to combat this drug on multiple fronts.

The DEA aggressively targets those who traffic in and manufacture this drug, as well as those who traffic in the chemicals used to produce this poison. In Colorado and across the nation, we have initiated and led successful enforcement efforts focusing on methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals and have worked jointly with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to combat this drug. The efforts of law enforcement have resulted in successful investigations that have dismantled and disrupted high-level methamphetamine trafficking organizations, as well as dramatically reduced the amount of pseudoephedrine entering our country.

Combating this drug requires a collaborative effort at all levels of law enforcement. An essential component of the DEA’s efforts against methamphetamine involves the partnerships we have developed with state and local law enforcement across the country. In addition to our enforcement efforts, we are using the expertise of the DEA’s Office of Training to provide clandestine laboratory training to thousands of our state and local partners throughout the United States. The DEA also provides cleanup assistance to law enforcement agencies across the country as they battle this drug.

NATIONAL METHAMPHETAMINE THREAT ASSESSMENT AND TRENDS

Methamphetamine found in the United States originates from two principal sources. Most methamphetamine is produced by Mexico-based and California-based Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). These DTOs control “super labs” (a laboratory capable of producing 10 pounds or more of methamphetamine within a production cycle) and produce the majority of methamphetamine available throughout the United States. Current drug and lab seizure data suggests that roughly 80 percent of the methamphetamine used in the United States comes from larger labs, which are increasingly found in Mexico.

Mexican criminal organizations control most mid-level and retail methamphetamine distribution in the Pacific, Southwest, and West Central regions of the United States, as well as much of the distribution in the Great Lakes and Southeast regions. Mexican criminal organizations trafficking both in powdered and the “ice” or “crystal” form of methamphetamine are the dominant distributors within Colorado. Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs) also distribute methamphetamine throughout the country, and reporting indicates that they are particularly prevalent in many areas of the Great Lakes region, New England, and New York/New Jersey regions. Generally, OMGs have not been significant methamphetamine distributors in the Rocky Mountain region.

The second source for methamphetamine in this country comes from small toxic labs (STLs) that produce relatively small amounts of methamphetamine and are not generally affiliated with major trafficking organizations. DEA currently estimates that STLs are responsible for approximately 20 percent of the methamphetamine consumed in this country. Initially found only in the most Western states, there has been an eastward spread of STLs in the United States, although numbers have recently declined. Many methamphetamine abusers quickly learn that “recipes” are easily accessible over the Internet, that its ingredients are available in many cold medications and common household products found at retail stores, and that the production of methamphetamine is a relatively simple process. These factors have helped serve as a catalyst for the spread of methamphetamine, although recent steps by many states to limit and control access to over-the-counter precursors has helped.

THREAT ASSESSMENT – STATE OF COLORADO

Methamphetamine is a significant drug threat facing DEA and other law enforcement counterparts in Colorado. We have seen the demand, availability, and abuse of methamphetamine increase in Colorado. The market for methamphetamine in powder, crystal, and liquid form, has increased and is dominated by Mexican poly-drug trafficking organizations. These organizations import it from sources within Mexico or the Southwest Border areas and transport it to metropolitan areas of Colorado Springs and Denver. From there, the methamphetamine is redistributed to locations in the Midwest and Eastern regions of the United States. Methamphetamine is being trafficked in larger quantities to meet consumer demands, and is primarily imported into the Rocky Mountain region rather than being produced within the region.

STLs produce anywhere from a few grams to a few ounces of methamphetamine. In Colorado, the drug is predominantly produced via the iodine/red phosphorous (“Red P”) method. A few Birch Reduction (“Nazi”) method laboratories have also been seized.

The DEA in Colorado purchases and seizes quantities of methamphetamine, ranging from ounces to multiple pounds. Methamphetamine can be purchased for $1,000 per ounce, while pound quantities of methamphetamine can be purchased for $8,000 per pound in the greater Denver metropolitan area. Purity levels of methamphetamine in Colorado have shown a recent increase in the past four months, with average purities being at the 50 percent level [as of the 3rd quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2006].

Methamphetamine lab-related seizures in Colorado, as reported to the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) for calendar year (CY) 2001 through CY 2005, are listed in the table below and are effective as of June 21, 2006. It should be noted that reporting is not mandatory. As such, some state and local law enforcement agencies do not report their clandestine laboratory numbers to EPIC in a timely manner and in some instances, not at all.

  Chem/Glass/Equip Dumpsites Labs Total
CY 2002        
Colorado
75
50
320
445
 
 
 
 
 
CY 2003
 
 
 
 
Colorado
83
44
231
358
 
 
 
 
 
CY 2004
 
 
 
 
Colorado
54
31
150
235
 
 
 
 
 
CY 2005
 
 
 
 
Colorado
39
14
96
149


BATTLING METHAMPHETAMINE – LABS AND PRECURSOR CHEMICALS

As a result of our efforts and those of our law enforcement partners in the United States and Canada, we have seen a decline in methamphetamine super labs in the United States. In 2005, 35 super labs were seized domestically, the majority of which were in California. This is a significant decrease from the 244 super labs seized in 2001. This decrease is largely a result of DEA’s enforcement successes against suppliers of bulk shipments of precursor chemicals, notably ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Law enforcement has also seen a large reduction in the amount of pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and other precursor chemicals seized at the Canadian border. But with the drop in super lab activity in the United States, we consequently have seen an increase of super lab activity in Mexico.

The DEA has been working to ensure that only legitimate businesses with adequate chemical controls are licensed to handle bulk pseudoephedrine and ephedrine in the United States. In the past seven years, more than 2,000 chemical registrants have been denied, surrendered, or withdrawn their registrations or applications as a result of DEA investigations. Between 2001 and 2005, DEA Diversion Investigators physically re-inspected nearly seventy-five percent of the 3,000 chemical registrants at their places of business. We investigated the adequacy of their security safeguards to prevent the diversion of chemicals to the illicit market and audited their record keeping to ensure compliance with federal regulations.

The DEA is also working with our global partners to target international methamphetamine traffickers and to increase chemical control efforts abroad. The DEA has worked hand-in-hand with our foreign law enforcement counterparts and has forged agreements to pre-screen pseudoephedrine shipments to ensure that they are being shipped to legitimate companies for legitimate purposes. An example of our efforts in this area is an operation worked with our counterparts from Hong Kong, Mexico, and Panama, which prevented approximately 68 million pseudoephedrine tablets from reaching methamphetamine traffickers. This pseudoephedrine could have produced more than two metric tons of methamphetamine.

The DEA recently coordinated meetings in Hong Kong and participated in the 49th annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria. At both of these meetings, DEA discussed how best to share information with our law enforcement counterparts for countries that produce or are affected by the diversion of pseudoephedrine. The meetings were productive, providing a forum for attendees to present their different perspectives and develop initiatives toward curbing the diversion of precursor chemicals and international methamphetamine traffickers. Notably, the Vienna meeting resulted in an international agreement to expand the sharing of information about exports of precursor chemicals, particularly pseudoephedrine.

In addition, new anti-methamphetamine domestic initiatives were announced in May 2006, whereby new partnerships were announced between the United States and Mexico to fight methamphetamine trafficking. These initiatives were unveiled at the National Methamphetamine and Chemicals Initiative Strategy Conference and are aimed at improving enforcement initiatives and increasing enforcement training levels, information-sharing, and public awareness, both domestically and within the framework of United States/Mexico anti-trafficking efforts. In the context of the National Drug Control Strategy and the Synthetic Drug Control Strategy, these initiatives will add to existing efforts to battle the flow of methamphetamine.

DEA’S EFFORTS IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION

Within Colorado, the DEA Denver Field Division manages offices in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Grand Junction. Additional DEA Posts of Duty are located in Glenwood Springs and Durango, Colorado. The Division’s purview also includes Wyoming, Utah, and Montana and manages offices in these states.

The DEA’s enforcement efforts in Colorado are led by DEA Special Agents and Task Force Officers (TFOs) from state and local agencies who are assigned to DEA offices. The TFO’s are deputized by the DEA and have the same authority under the Controlled Substances Act as DEA Special Agents. The Denver Field Division has TFOs assigned to all offices throughout Colorado who work alongside our Agents, Diversion Investigators, and Intelligence Research Specialists. Working in a task force setting brings together the expertise of the individual investigators and agencies and serves as a force multiplier, creating a productive environment in which law enforcement can better attack the drug threats facing the Rocky Mountain region.

The DEA focuses its overall enforcement operations on the most significant regional, national, and international drug trafficking organizations responsible for the illicit drug supply in the United States. Within Colorado, DEA implements the same approach by focusing our investigative resources and efforts on the largest trafficking organizations operating within the state. The enforcement efforts of our offices in Colorado have resulted in increased methamphetamine-related arrests. From CY-2002 through CY-2005, the enforcement efforts of the DEA offices in Colorado have resulted in approximately 527 methamphetamine-related arrests. These arrests included investigations conducted under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program and the Priority Target Organization investigations program. Working closely with our local law enforcement counterparts, we have not only combined our efforts to investigate methamphetamine-related criminal activity, but we also actively conduct public awareness forums with local citizen groups.

Several recent examples of DEA led efforts to target methamphetamine trafficking organizations and precursor chemical suppliers operating in Colorado are summarized below:

  • Methamphetamine Sold for Sex on Wind River Indian Reservation: In May 2006, the DEA Denver Field Division in Wyoming, together with state and local law enforcement officials, announced 53 indictments and 43 arrests stemming from a two-year Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation targeting members of a methamphetamine trafficking organization that operated on the Wind River Indian Reservation and throughout Wyoming. During the course of this investigation, law enforcement seized over 20 pounds of high-purity methamphetamine, $100,000 in cash, and 20 firearms, including one machine gun. It was also identified that a member of the trafficking organization exchanged sex with a female juvenile for methamphetamine. Previous arrests included the high-profile arrest of a tribal judge. The Wind River Indian Reservation was specifically targeted by a Mexican poly-drug trafficking organization that was directly linked to sources in Mexico. This Mexican poly-drug trafficking organization not only operated in Wyoming, but also in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Michigan, and New York.
  • Violent Methamphetamine Trafficking Organization Operated in Grand Junction, Colorado: During March 2006, DEA and other law enforcement officials announced that a total of 40 individuals had been arrested in Grand Junction and Colorado Springs for their part in a drug trafficking organization known to distribute multi-pound quantities of methamphetamine throughout Western Colorado. Of the 40 arrested, 17 had prior criminal records, including weapons and/or violence-related offenses. This organization had been involved in a variety of violent acts that ranged from home invasions to attempted murder charges. One incident involved an organization member, who while out on bond on felony charges, allegedly shot his wife in the stomach and had her dropped off at an emergency room. The subject was later located by local law enforcement officials, and an armed confrontation took place during which the subject was fatally shot. Autopsy results showed that the subject had methamphetamine, marijuana, and barbiturates in his system.
  • Violent Methamphetamine Dealers Arrested: In March 2006, the DEA Denver Field Division and state and local law enforcement officials announced the arrest of 11 members of a Cheyenne-based methamphetamine trafficking ring. The trafficking ring was responsible for transporting large quantities of methamphetamine from the Denver area to the Cheyenne, Wyoming for distribution. The investigation revealed the organization was distributing multi-pound quantities of methamphetamine in Cheyenne on a monthly basis. Various members of the trafficking organization routinely carried guns during drug transactions for the protection of drugs, the collection of drug profits, and to intimidate persons from contacting law enforcement. One of the individuals in the gang even had a drug-related shootout with police, following which he was eventually arrested in the possession of methamphetamine. The subjects arrested are now facing federal charges for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and other related charges.
  • Boulder County Methamphetamine Drug Trafficking Arrests: In January 2006, the DEA Denver Field Division and other federal, state, and local law enforcement officials announced the arrests of 13 individuals after an eight-month DEA Mobile Enforcement Team deployment in Colorado’s Boulder County area. In addition to the 13 arrests, 3 pounds of cocaine, 1 pound of methamphetamine, a 1/2 pound of marijuana, and other assorted quantities of drugs and cash were seized. The drug trafficking organization was responsible for supplying cocaine and methamphetamine in the Boulder County area and was comprised largely of local drug traffickers who had formed an alliance to control the methamphetamine market. The trafficking organization intentionally used children as couriers and distributors of the drugs to escape detection and create new markets. The subjects arrested face multiple federal charges for distributing their illegal product.
  • Loveland, Colorado Methamphetamine Trafficking Organization Arrests: In November 2005, the DEA Denver Field Division and state and local officials announced the conclusion of an eight-month investigation into a major methamphetamine distribution organization operating in the Loveland area. The investigation identified 15-20 persons operating as an organized group selling methamphetamine to at least 200-300 citizens in the Larimer County area. It was estimated that the methamphetamine ring was responsible for distributing between four to five pounds of methamphetamine on a weekly basis. The investigation resulted in at least 20 arrests and nearly 3 pounds of methamphetamine being seized.

DEA’S CLANDESTINE LABORATORY TRAINING

In response to the spread of labs across the country, more and more state and local law enforcement officers require training to investigate and safely dismantle clandestine methamphetamine labs. Since 1998, the DEA has offered a robust training program for our state and local partners. Through our Office of Training, DEA provides basic and advanced clandestine laboratory safety training for Special Agents and state and local law enforcement officers at our DEA Clandestine Laboratory Training Facility. Instruction includes the Basic Clandestine Laboratory Certification School, the Advanced Site Safety School, and the Clandestine Laboratory Tactical School. Each course exceeds Occupational Safety and Health Administration-mandated minimum safety requirements and is provided at no cost to qualified state and local law enforcement officers. As part of this training, approximately $2,200 worth of personal protective equipment is issued to each student, allowing the officer to safely investigate clandestine labs and work in a hazardous environment.

Since 1998, the DEA has trained more than 12,000 state and local law enforcement personnel (plus 1,900 DEA employees) to conduct investigations, dismantle seized methamphetamine labs, and protect the public from methamphetamine lab toxic waste. From FY 2002 through FY 2005, the DEA provided clandestine laboratory training to more than 128 Colorado officers. In addition, personnel in the Denver Field Division have conducted numerous public awareness training programs for local law enforcement and private organization groups. Since 2004, the DEA has trained more than 1,400 individuals in these clandestine awareness training programs.

HAZARDOUS WASTE CLEANUP

When a federal, state, or local agency seizes a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory, Environmental Protection Agency regulations require that the agency ensure that all hazardous waste materials are safely removed from the site. In 1990, the DEA established a Hazardous Waste Cleanup Program to address environmental concerns resulting from the seizure of clandestine drug laboratories. This program promotes the safety of law enforcement personnel and the public by using qualified companies with specialized training and equipment to remove hazardous waste. Private contractors provide hazardous waste removal and disposal services to the DEA, as well as to state and local law enforcement agencies.

The DEA's Hazardous Waste Program, with the assistance of grants to state and local law enforcement, supports and funds the cleanup of a majority of the laboratories seized in the United States. In FY 2005, the cost of administering these cleanups was approximately $17.7 million.

The DEA administered 436 lab cleanups in Colorado during FY 2004 through FY 2005, at a total cost of $553,588.

CONCLUSION

The DEA, both nationally and in Colorado, is keenly aware that we must continue our fight against methamphetamine and stop the spread of this drug. Law enforcement has experienced some success in this fight, as evidenced by the significant decrease in the number of super labs seized in this country and the large reduction in pseudoephedrine seized at the Canadian border. We are continuing to fight methamphetamine on multiple fronts. Our enforcement efforts are focused on both the large-scale methamphetamine trafficking organizations distributing this drug, as well as those who are involved in providing the precursor chemicals necessary to manufacture this poison.

Our DEA offices in Colorado have been combating methamphetamine for many years and have been working closely with other federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to combat this drug threat. The outstanding relationships DEA has with these law enforcement agencies has enabled us to partner in more effectively and safely investigating and dismantling these labs. Through DEA’s clandestine laboratory training for state and local partners, we have maximized our capabilities. Additionally, through our hazardous waste program, the DEA has administered nearly 436 laboratory cleanups in Colorado and Wyoming since FY 2004.

Thank you for your recognition of this important issue and the opportunity to testify here today. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

 

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