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Methamphetamine abuse poses the most serious drug-related concern to law enforcement officials throughout Arizona because of the drug's widespread availability, highly addictive nature, association with violence, and apparent appeal to youth. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) 2009 National Drug Threat Survey9 (NDTS), 17 out of 35 respondents within the Arizona HIDTA region who replied to the 2009 NDTS report that methamphetamine was their greatest drug threat; the remainder report that marijuana (10) and powder methamphetamine (6) were the greatest drug threat to their jurisdictions. All of these respondents indicated that many other drugs, including crack cocaine and MBT also were problematic, albeit to varying degrees.

Methamphetamine Use Down Among Arizona Youth

According to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission's 2008 Arizona Youth Survey, methamphetamine use by students in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades statewide has drastically decreased since 2006. The data show that use of the drug increases at higher grade levels, but the overall percentage of student users in 2008 has decreased since 2006. The 2008 results indicate that 1.2 percent of eighth-grade students statewide had tried the substance, compared with 2.6 percent in 2006. Tenth- and twelfth-grade students showed a 2.6 percent decrease in those who had tried the substance at least once from 2006 through 2008. The Arizona Meth Project is a program created to prevent use of the drug among Arizona youths. The program uses advertisements and community programs to raise awareness of the consequences of methamphetamine use.

Source: Arizona Meth Project.

Controlled prescription drug (CPD) abuse is on the rise and is becoming an increasingly serious drug-related concern to law enforcement.

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Illicit Finance

The Arizona HIDTA region's proximity to Mexico and its role in national- and regional-level drug trafficking render the area a significant money laundering center for Mexican DTOs. Mexican DTOs typically consolidate illicit proceeds generated in the region at stash locations, combine them with funds generated in other regions of the country, and transport the proceeds in bulk to Mexico. They generally smuggle bulk cash in hidden compartments of private and commercial vehicles that are driven through POEs. Mexican DTOs also smuggle bulk currency in commercial and private aircraft, by couriers on passenger bus lines, and through the use of package delivery services. During fiscal year (FY) 2008 CBP officers seized $1.6 million in undeclared currency.

Mexican DTOs often launder large sums of illicit drug proceeds through money transmitters throughout the United States. Many wire transmitters send funds to the Southwest Border area, including the Arizona HIDTA region. Once the funds arrive in the HIDTA region, DTO members or accomplices collect the funds and often transport them to local stash houses for consolidation. The funds, in the form of bulk cash shipments, are then smuggled into Mexico. Law enforcement officials report that such wire transfers are common in the region, but they are occurring less frequently than in previous years. The Arizona Attorney General's Office reports that effective law enforcement efforts that targeted drug and alien traffickers who rely on wire transfers for money laundering purposes forced the traffickers to reroute transfers. Many now avoid Arizona and electronically wire transfer their drug proceeds to other U.S. destinations or directly to Mexico. According to the Arizona Attorney General's Office, once bulk cash arrives in Mexico from Arizona, it is often deposited into a Mexican bank and/or a casa de cambio10 and then repatriated to the United States through electronic wire transfers or bulk cash transportation by armored car or courier services.

DTOs, gangs, and independent dealers operating in the Arizona HIDTA region also launder illicit proceeds through a variety of other methods. They commonly commingle illicit proceeds with funds from legitimate businesses such as automobile dealerships, retail stores, real estate companies, and restaurants. These groups or individuals also purchase high-value assets such as luxury residences and vehicles.

Operation Blank Check

Operation Blank Check was a multiagency investigation of drug traffickers involving criminal fraud in Phoenix that resulted in the arrest of over 100 individuals; 77 of those arrested were gang members from 22 gangs. Law enforcement officers seized 31 firearms; 24 vehicles; $75,000 cash; and quantities of cocaine, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy), and marijuana. Also seized were several bulletproof vests, fraudulent checks, and equipment used to manufacture fraudulent checks.

During Operation Blank Check, individuals made fraudulent checks on valid checking accounts, solicited coconspirators to act as check cashers who, after cashing the fraudulent checks, brought cash back to the defendants. In each transaction the check casher kept a small percentage of the funds for himself and passed the rest of the money to the defendants, who in turn kept a portion of the funds and passed the remainder to their superiors in the scheme. Officials believe that scheme brought in over $3 million over a 5-year period.

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation Phoenix Field Division.


9. National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) data for 2009 cited in this report are as of February 12, 2009. NDTS data cited are raw, unweighted responses from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies solicited through either National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) or the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) HIDTA program. Data cited may include responses from agencies that are part of the NDTS 2009 national sample and/or agencies that are part of HIDTA solicitation lists.
10. Casas de cambio located in Mexico are nonbank financial institutions (currency exchangers) that provide a variety of financial services and are highly regulated by the Mexican Government.

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