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Distribution From the HIDTA Region

The Central Valley HIDTA region is a regional- and national-level distribution center for methamphetamine and marijuana produced in the region as well as marijuana, ice methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin smuggled from Mexico into the United States. Mexican DTOs are the primary wholesale distributors of drugs in the region, typically using stash sites located in private residences, warehouses, and storage facilities in cities and towns throughout the region. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups use the area as a base of operations for illicit drug distribution to markets throughout the United States.

Stockton DTO Dismantled

In November 2008, 13 members of a Stockton area DTO were arrested for their role in a drug smuggling operation that involved the importation of drugs from Mexico, through Los Angeles, to the HIDTA region. This organization had been using vehicles that were outfitted with electronically operated hidden compartments to facilitate transportation and distribution of the drugs. Members were assigned specific roles to further the organization's goals, such as hidden compartment fabricators, money launderers, drug couriers, smugglers, straw party vehicle owners, and caretakers of various stash houses.

In addition to the 13 federal arrests, law enforcement officials seized 31 pounds of cocaine, 14 pounds of ice methamphetamine, 2 pounds of heroin, four handguns, and $25,000 in cash. The street value of the seized drugs was estimated to be $1.7 million.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, San Francisco Field Division.

Street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs operating in the HIDTA region distribute illicit drugs to their counterparts in cities throughout the country to capitalize on the higher profits that can be made in those cities. Various traffickers in the area, including Asian DTOs, Caucasian criminal groups, and independent dealers distribute high-potency marijuana produced in the region to other areas of the country. Other dangerous drugs (ODDs) such as MDMA, diverted CPDs, and other illicit drugs such as khat are also distributed from the area.

Distribution Within the HIDTA Region

Constantly changing factors that contribute to the strength of drug distribution groups, such as access to weapons and consistent drug supplies, have prevented any single group or gang from dominating midlevel or retail-level drug distribution in the Central Valley HIDTA for an extended period. Rather, midlevel and retail drug sales are carried out by numerous groups and individuals, in a variety of locations. These groups often sell multiple drugs or shift from one drug type to another as availability, demand, and sources of supply fluctuate. For example, according to the Fresno Police Department, throughout 2008 an increasing number of crack dealers began distributing methamphetamine because of the higher profits associated with methamphetamine distribution.

Criminal groups and independent dealers that distribute drugs at the retail level vary greatly in their preferred distribution points, the types of buyers they sell to, and their methods of communication. Drug sales in metropolitan areas often occur in open-air markets (located on streets and in parking lots) as well as in clubs and bars; distributors sell to both new, unfamiliar customers and well-known, repeat customers. Drug sales in rural areas usually occur at prearranged locations and are typically conducted between a dealer and known or referred customers. Law enforcement reporting indicates that distributors use cell phones, satellite phones, pagers, and other personal communication devices to communicate with sources and customers. In addition, distributors often use text messages consisting of code words that allow them to communicate with a reduced risk of detection.

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Drug-Related Crime

Methamphetamine trafficking and abuse significantly impact crime in the Central Valley HIDTA region. Twenty-five of the 28 state and local law enforcement officials responding to the NDTS 2009 report that methamphetamine (either powder or ice) is the drug that most contributes to violent crime and property crime in their jurisdictions. (See Table 5.) Law enforcement officials also report that most incidents of assault, armed robbery, burglary, domestic violence, and homicide that occur in the region are perpetrated by members of DTOs, criminal groups, and street gangs in the course of their drug trafficking operations. Additionally, law enforcement reporting indicates that methamphetamine abusers commit a considerable amount of property crime in the area, including identity theft, to acquire money with which to purchase methamphetamine and other illicit drugs.

Table 5. Central Valley HIDTA Law Enforcement Responses to the National Drug Threat Survey 2009

Drug Greatest Drug Threat* Most Contributes to Violent Crime* Most Contributes to Property Crime*
Ice Methamphetamine 21 19 19
Powder Methamphetamine 6 6 6
Crack Cocaine 0 2 0
Heroin 0 0 2

Source: National Drug Threat Survey 2009.
Total respondents: 28
* No response: 1

Marijuana-related violence is escalating in the HIDTA region, particularly violence perpetrated by cannabis cultivators. According to law enforcement officials, the methods that cultivators use to protect outdoor cannabis grow sites vary; however, an increasing number of armed individuals are protecting cannabis crops because of their high value, competition with other outdoor growers, and previous successful eradication efforts by law enforcement. DCE/SP data show that the number of weapons seized at both outdoor and indoor grow sites in California increased 49 percent between 2004 (749) and 2008 (1,114). According to the Central Valley Marijuana Investigation Team (CVMIT), over the past year, grow site workers began to camp near the grow sites rather than directly at them. Typically, these offsite locations are located in a position that allows the tenders, who also provide armed security for the site, a clear view of the approaches to the site. Furthermore, camping at offsite locations affords growers a rapid egress if law enforcement officials are approaching the area.

Burglaries and home invasion robberies of illegal indoor cannabis grow sites are also prevalent within the HIDTA region. According to law enforcement officials, burglaries of grow sites, including repeat burglaries, occurred periodically in the HIDTA region during 2008. Law enforcement officials also report an increase in the number of weapons seized at indoor grow sites, suggesting that cannabis cultivators are more frequently arming themselves to protect their operations.

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