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This is an NDIC product. National Drug Intelligence Center 
Wisconsin Drug Threat Assessment
May 2001


The increasing availability and abuse of Southeast Asian (SEA) and South American (SA) heroin are growing problems, particularly in the Milwaukee area. Milwaukee is a major destination for heroin in the state and a transshipment point for various types of heroin destined for other Wisconsin cities. Nigerian and Dominican heroin transporters primarily use privately owned vehicles to transport heroin into the state. Commercial aircraft, buses, and package services are secondary methods. Most retail heroin sales are dominated by African American and Hispanic street gangs such as the East Side Mafioso, Mickey Cobras, Vice Lords, Maniac Latin Disciples, and Latin Kings.

The Mickey Cobras is a Chicago-based African American gang also known as the Cobrastones. This gang is very mobile, and factions of the gang are being established throughout the Midwest. The gang's criminal expertise is in narcotics. It protects its operations through drive-by shootings and other assaults.



Heroin abuse is increasing in Wisconsin. Although the Wisconsin DNE reports that few drug units cite heroin as an increasing problem, the Wisconsin Department of Justice predicts that heroin will become more prevalent and its availability may expand to new areas throughout the state. Most heroin abuse is concentrated in the Milwaukee and Racine areas; however, in a 2000 DNE report, 15 percent of Wisconsin counties reported heroin as an increasing problem.

Approximately three-fourths of all reported heroin-related deaths in Wisconsin in 1999 occurred in Milwaukee. A 2000 report by the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's office shows a record number of deaths were attributed to heroin abuse in the county in 2000--a 75 percent increase from 1999. (See Chart 4.) Heroin deaths continue to rise in other areas of the state. A Dane County Narcotics Task Force detective reports that the number of heroin overdose deaths in Dane County as of September 2000 more than doubled 1999 figures.

Heroin overdoses led to the deaths of eight people in Milwaukee County during a 2-week period in 2000, according to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office.

Chart 4. Heroin-Related Deaths, Milwaukee County, 1996-2000
Bar graph showing heroin-related deaths in Milwaukee county for the years 1996 through 2000.

Source: Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office.

Heroin purity levels, some measured as high as 95 percent, are higher than ever before. Higher purity heroin gives users the option of effectively snorting or smoking the drug rather than injecting--an option that enhances the appeal to younger users and those who previously may have been hesitant to use the drug.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office reports that the 15 people who died of heroin overdoses in the first 8 months of 2000 were mostly middle-aged, suggesting that they may have been longtime users conditioned to lower purity heroin.

Rising purity levels have led to an increased demand for heroin, which in turn has led to an increasing number of heroin users in the state. One Milwaukee inner-city hospital estimates that approximately one-third of its pregnant patients test positive for drugs. Of these patients, those most often testing positive for heroin are Caucasian.

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Heroin is becoming more readily available in the Milwaukee and Madison areas. The Milwaukee HIDTA and the DEA Milwaukee District Office report that SEA heroin is the prevailing type available, followed by South American (SA) heroin. Primarily, Nigerian criminal groups distribute wholesale amounts of SEA heroin, while Dominican criminal groups dominate the SA heroin trade.

An indication that heroin is more readily available not only in Milwaukee, but also in the rest of the state, is an increase in seizures and heroin-related investigations. The Dane County Narcotics Task Force reports that heroin is increasingly available in its jurisdiction. For example, nearly 100 "bindles" of heroin were recovered in two separate drug busts in Madison and Fitchburg. In a 1995 to 1999 comparison of Wisconsin Task Force drug investigations by drug type, heroin investigations rose 60 percent. The number of State Crime Laboratory cases involving heroin increased 130 percent from 1995 to 1998. Most heroin seized in Milwaukee has been packaged in quantities of 1 gram or less.

White heroin refers to any heroin that is white, off-white, or tan in color. Many law enforcement agencies do not have the capability to distinguish the origin of the heroin.

Heroin purity levels are increasing in the Milwaukee area. In 1997, the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory tested 39 samples, and most purity levels were between 20 and 30 percent. Two samples tested at 80 percent purity. Some samples of white heroin purchased in Milwaukee during Wisconsin DNE undercover buys in 1999 and 2000 tested at 80 percent purity. Although lower purity levels were still the norm, more samples tested at 80 percent or greater in 1999 than in 1997.


Most federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin cite the violent crime associated with gang-related drug trafficking activity as the most serious criminal threat to the state. Gangs are the primary street-level distributors of heroin and other drugs in Wisconsin. Gang migration from Milwaukee to other areas of the state has increased the availability of drugs and consequently the associated violent criminal activity in these areas.

There are no indications of significant increases in crime or violence related directly to heroin use in Wisconsin. Nonetheless, the highly addictive nature of heroin forces many users to resort to crime to obtain the drug. Heroin users often commit theft and burglary and occasionally engage in prostitution in order to feed their addiction.


There is no evidence to suggest that opium poppy cultivation or heroin production takes place in Wisconsin.

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Nigerian and Dominican criminal organizations are the primary heroin transporters in Wisconsin. Nigerian criminal organizations obtain the bulk of their heroin supply from Chicago and Dominican organizations receive their supply from New York City. Nigerian criminal organizations are based in Milwaukee and deal directly with Nigerian and/or Southeast Asian suppliers as well as with Nigerian sources in Chicago. Nigerian criminal organizations are the primary source of SEA heroin in Wisconsin. A 1998 multiagency investigation, Operation Global Sea, targeted a Nigerian heroin smuggling organization that stretched from Asia, to Nigeria, to the Milwaukee-Chicago area, and throughout the United States. The organization used couriers, primarily Caucasian females who ingested condoms filled with heroin, to smuggle the drug into the United States. The organization also transported heroin in hidden compartments in suitcases and used commercial airline pilots to smuggle heroin from London, England, to the United States.

Nigerian criminal organizations have become increasingly sophisticated, controlling courier networks capable of transporting multiple kilograms of heroin from Southeast Asia to both U.S. and European distribution markets. In 1999, the FBI investigated a Nigerian heroin criminal group based in Fayetteville, Georgia, that used Nigerian and U.S. citizens to smuggle heroin from Bangkok, Thailand, to Milwaukee and three other U.S. cities.

Dominican and Asian criminal groups are beginning to influence the Milwaukee heroin market. Dominican criminal groups operating in the Milwaukee area are bringing in high- purity SA heroin. At the same time, highly sophisticated Asian criminal groups in the area have expanded their drug transportation activities. Their connections with other Asian criminal groups across the United States, Canada, and overseas have increased the flow of SEA heroin into northern Wisconsin.

Heroin transportation groups use numerous methods to ship heroin into Wisconsin. Transportation by private vehicles, trucks and, to a lesser extent, buses is the principal method. The East Side Mafioso uses cars outfitted with sophisticated traps, as well as buses, rental vehicles, and trains, to transport heroin from Chicago to Milwaukee. Other transportation modes used are airlines and mail services. For example, a DEA-U.S. Customs Service investigation involving undercover heroin buys revealed an intercepted call to a Chicago telephone number that was used by a Nigerian criminal group. The phone call instructed a New York-based courier to transport heroin to Milwaukee through General Mitchell International Airport. In another instance, a 1999 OCDETF investigation profiled a heroin trafficking organization that concealed heroin in lotion bottles and mailed them to Wisconsin.

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Nigerian criminal groups control most of the SEA heroin wholesale operations in Milwaukee. Nigerian wholesalers sell SEA heroin to Wisconsin street gangs who distribute it at the street level. Nigerian criminal groups reportedly supply 70 to 90 percent of the SEA heroin available in Chicago, northwestern Indiana, and southern Wisconsin. One such Nigerian criminal group distributed white heroin throughout Chicago and in states bordering Illinois such as Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin in 1999. Another Nigerian criminal group working in Chicago supplied heroin to Detroit and Milwaukee. A 1999 Milwaukee HIDTA investigation of a Nigerian criminal group based in Milwaukee disclosed that the group obtained its heroin supply from Chicago.

Dominican criminal groups are making inroads into the Milwaukee heroin market. The Milwaukee HIDTA reports that Dominican distribution groups are working closely with the prison-based street gang Ņeta, and the Dominican-Ņeta network is becoming a major heroin supplier in Milwaukee. A 10-ounce seizure of SA heroin in 1999 may indicate an increase in the use of this type of heroin and suggests a growing Dominican influence. SA heroin is typically of high purity and generally is priced lower than other heroin sold in the area, making it highly marketable.

Dominican heroin retail groups based in New York City often will send workers to other cities to establish distribution networks and expand their market base. The parent groups in New York City manage these outlying networks and supply them with drugs and labor.

Milwaukee and Chicago-based street gangs primarily are responsible for street-level heroin distribution. Heroin retail distribution occurs most frequently in Milwaukee's inner-city areas, although Asian criminal groups have increased heroin distribution in northern Wisconsin. The East Side Mafioso is a heroin retail distributor on Milwaukee's East Side. The gang transports the heroin from Chicago to Milwaukee. The Spanish Cobras gang retails heroin primarily on the North Side of Milwaukee and obtains its heroin supply predominantly from Nigerian criminal groups. The Maniac Latin Disciples gang in Milwaukee is linked to the Chicago Maniac Latin Disciples and reports to Chicago leaders. Members retail heroin throughout the city and suburbs and are considered a major drug threat because of their Chicago connections. Dominican criminal groups are using street gangs, principally through an association with Ņeta, to retail heroin. Recent reports indicate, however, that Dominican groups on the South Side of Milwaukee are using the Latin Kings, La Familia, Spanish Cobras, Maniac Latin Disciples, and Eastside Mafioso to distribute heroin.

Retail drug distribution takes place in different areas across the state. Police departments from smaller Wisconsin communities provided information in March 2000 pertaining to heroin retail areas. The Dane County Narcotics Task Force reported that heroin distribution occurs mostly in suburban areas of Madison and that the typical distributor is a Caucasian male working independently. A Central Area Drug Enforcement Group detective reported that heroin distribution and abuse are generally confined to the large Asian population in Wausau. A Racine County Metro Drug Unit detective reported that Chicago-based, African American gangs sell heroin predominantly on the South Side of Racine.

Milwaukee police officials indicate that 90 percent of the heroin they seize is white heroin and that seizures are predominantly of street-level amounts. Street-level quantities of heroin take the form of 1/4-, 1/2-, and 1-gram packs.


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