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Mexican DTOs commonly transport illicit drugs into the Atlanta HIDTA region from California, Texas, and Mexico by means of private and commercial vehicles along Interstates 20, 75, and 85; these DTOs also transport drug proceeds back to California, Texas, and Mexico using the same means. In addition, Mexican DTOs have transported illicit drugs on interstates using cloned vehicles (private vehicles painted to appear to be commercial vehicles) and commercial buses in an attempt to avoid law enforcement detection. Moreover, some Mexican DTOs are attempting to avoid law enforcement interdiction efforts along major interstates in the region, particularly I-20. For example, Mexican transporters have used highways as far north as Kansas, such as I-70, to avoid law enforcement interdiction along I-20 while transporting drugs into the Atlanta HIDTA region.

Asian DTOs operating in the Atlanta HIDTA typically use private vehicles and commercial air flights to transport drugs, principally MDMA and Canadian marijuana, from Canada or states near the U.S.-Canada border to Atlanta for distribution. For example, in 2007 law enforcement officials arrested several Atlanta-based Laotian traffickers who drove private vehicles from Atlanta to Detroit, Michigan, or took commercial air flights from Atlanta to Canada to obtain tens of thousands of MDMA pills that they planned to distribute in the Atlanta HIDTA region.

Various traffickers transport limited quantities of illicit drugs into the Atlanta HIDTA region on commercial airlines to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is the world's busiest passenger airport and a major connecting hub serving numerous destinations around the world. Only a small number of drug shipments were seized at the airport in 2007. Traffickers' limited use of commercial airlines in the region is quite likely the result of increased security at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In fact, increased security at the airport resulted in the February 2008 arrest of commercial airline employees and federal security workers for conspiring to transport cocaine and heroin from Atlanta to New York City aboard commercial airline flights.

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The Atlanta HIDTA region is a principal drug distribution center used by Mexican DTOs for drugs destined for drug markets in much of the eastern United States, particularly powder cocaine. Mexican DTOs use their expansive transportation networks and distribution cells to provide illicit drugs from the Atlanta HIDTA region to eastern drug markets, including Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Columbia, South Carolina; Gainesville, Orlando, and Pensacola, Florida; Indianapolis, Indiana; Knoxville, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; Montgomery, Alabama; and Norfolk, Virginia. Moreover, Mexican DTOs use Atlanta as a distribution center for cities in the central United States, including St. Louis, Missouri.

Continued law enforcement efforts against Mexican DTOs operating in the Atlanta HIDTA region have caused some DTOs to move their operations into North Carolina to spread their distribution operations over a larger geographic area in an attempt to minimize the risk of apprehension by Atlanta law enforcement officials. To this end, the Mexican traffickers operating in North Carolina have formed a cooperative relationship to facilitate control of drug trafficking in the southeast by Mexican DTOs and to increase market share. As a result of Mexican DTO expansion, ONDCP added the North Carolina counties of Durham, Johnston, Wake, Wayne, and Wilson to the Atlanta HIDTA region.

Mexican DTOs control the wholesale and midlevel distribution of powder cocaine, ice methamphetamine, and marijuana in Atlanta. Most midlevel and retail-level distributors depend on Mexican DTOs as their sources for these illicit drugs. Mexican DTOs typically stash the illicit drugs they transport to the region in houses located in middle-class neighborhoods and in more rural areas of the region--locations that the traffickers believe receive limited law enforcement scrutiny.

A number of DTOs, criminal groups, and local independent dealers distribute illicit drugs at the retail level in the region (see Table 4), and their methods of operation change little from year to year. Retail-level distribution takes place at open-air drug markets, at housing projects, in local clubs, in private residences, and at prearranged meeting sites such as parking lots. The Boulevard, a major north-south thoroughfare in eastern Atlanta, is a long-established open-air market in which African American traffickers sell crack cocaine and marijuana. Public housing areas, especially the Bowen Homes, remain important drug markets; however, Atlanta authorities are closing and demolishing most of the city's public housing areas. Heroin distribution remains confined to the "Bluff" area northwest of the Georgia Dome. MDMA is generally distributed in pool halls and dance clubs in Buckhead (northern Atlanta) and Midtown. Jonesboro, located south of Atlanta, is an open-air market for ounce quantities of powder and crack cocaine. Ice methamphetamine is not typically distributed in open-air markets as a result of the erratic behavior often displayed by methamphetamine abusers; methamphetamine distributors usually deliver the drug directly to abusers at their residences or other locations that receive limited law enforcement and public scrutiny.

Table 4. Retail-Level Drugs, by Distributor, in the Atlanta HIDTA Region, 2008

Distributors Drug(s) Distributed
African American Powder and crack cocaine, heroin, MDMA, marijuana, and ice methamphetamine
Asian High-potency marijuana and MDMA
Caucasian Powder cocaine, GHB, MDMA, marijuana, locally produced powder methamphetamine, Mexican ice methamphetamine, and diverted pharmaceuticals
Hispanic Powder cocaine, marijuana, and ice methamphetamine
Jamaican Powder cocaine

Source: Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Retail-level drug distributors typically facilitate drug sales in the Atlanta HIDTA region using electronic communications, usually cellular telephones and the Internet. These distributors prefer to conduct drug-related conversations over cellular telephones with point-to-point capabilities, believing that these communications are difficult for law enforcement officials to intercept. Many traffickers use a particular cellular telephone only for a limited time before switching to a new cellular telephone with a new number to reduce the possibility of law enforcement monitoring. Traffickers also use cellular telephones with removable subscriber identity module (SIM) cards, maintaining multiple SIM cards and one cellular telephone. By changing SIM cards,8 traffickers can use multiple numbers while using only one telephone, again reducing the possibility of law enforcement monitoring. Moreover, SIM cards are more easily destroyed than cellular telephones should the trafficker be arrested. In addition, the Internet has become a popular method of communication for drug traffickers. Traffickers use Internet chat rooms and blogs to arrange drug sales. Further, African American street gang members are increasingly using the Internet to communicate, facilitate gang activities, and spread gang culture.

Pharmaceutical drugs typically are obtained by distributors and abusers through doctor shopping and prescription fraud; distributors and abusers also are increasingly purchasing pharmaceutical drugs from Internet pharmacies. Moreover, public health authorities report that Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are sources for diverted pharmaceuticals available in the Atlanta HIDTA region.

End Note

8. SIM (subscriber identity module) cards are removable smart cards that contain a cellular telephone subscriber's account information, including telephone number. Removable SIM cards are legitimately used to allow cell phone subscribers to maintain their accounts and personal information when purchasing new phones.

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