Entries in DEA (10)


DEA Makes 90 Arrests in War on Synthetic Drugs

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Less than a month after President Obama banned the sale, production, and possession of the synthetic drugs known as bath salts, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced Thursday that it has made 90 arrests in a nationwide “synthetic drug takedown.”

Law enforcement agents also seized $36 million in cash and 19 million packets of synthetic drugs, including bath salts (a powder hallucinogen) and spice (also known as fake marijuana). The DEA collaborated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and several other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in a project called Operation Log Jam to affect the arrests.

“This enforcement action has disrupted the entire illegal industry, from manufacturers to retailers,” said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.

The largest number of arrests were in Albuquerque, but the most significant synthetic drug activity was in Tampa, DEA spokeswoman Barbara Cerrano told ABC News. Part of Operation Log Jam included serving search warrants to gather evidence in addition to the arrests, she said.

“The criminal organizations behind the importation, distribution and selling of these synthetic drugs have scant regard for human life in their reckless pursuit of illicit profits,” said James Chaparro, the Acting Director of ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations. “ICE is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to bring this industry to its knees.”

The synthetic marijuana starts as a powder that’s illegally imported from overseas and is mixed with acetone and plant material before it can be packaged and sold, then used and abused, Cerrano said.

The bath salts are also imported as a powder and sold at head shops under names like “Ivory Wave” and “Bliss,” according to the DEA.

The difference between a synthetic drug and any other drug is that a synthetic drug is made in a lab, said Scott Basinger, chairman of the Substance Abuse Committee at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Although people have used natural drugs by smoking marijuana or chewing cocaine leaves going back thousands of years, synthetic drugs are only 30 or 40 years old, and they probably started with LSD, he said.

“There’s a certain sense that new synthetics that are common on the market are more dangerous because we don’t have the background on how to handle them,” Basinger told ABC News. “For a cocaine overdose or an opioid overdose, we know exactly what to do with them in the ER.”

The drugs have been linked to bizarre behavior including an instance in which a Texas man allegedly attacked, killed and then ate his friend’s dog while high on synthetic marijuana.

Sasha McLean, who heads a school for adolescents recovering from substance abuse, told ABC News there’s been more synthetic drug use in the last two years where she lives in Houston, even among the homeless population. She said she’s seen firsthand what bath salts can do to teens and adults and called it “horribly dangerous.”

“It literally looked like he’d lost his mind,” she said of a 16-year-old who suffered from auditory and visual hallucinations. “He was yelling and screaming at things that didn’t exist, and it was very, very scary.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


DEA: American Airlines Workers Smuggled Cocaine into Miami, New York

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In the latest arrests of U.S. airport workers on drug smuggling charges, authorities charged that two rings of nearly 50 corrupt employees at Puerto Rico's main airport smuggled thousands of kilograms of cocaine onto commercial flights bound for mainland U.S. cities, including Miami, Orlando and New York.

One ring, allegedly led by Maribel Rodriguez Fragoso, a.k.a. La Flaca or "the Skinny Woman," was made up of workers for a baggage handling and maintenance company at San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, and allegedly brought cocaine-stuffed backpacks and suitcases into cities up and down the East Coast between 2010 and 2012. The other, allegedly led by American Airlines employee Wilfredo Rodriguez Rosado, included American Airlines workers and is charged with smuggling more than 9,000 kilos of the white powder between 2000 and 2009.

The DEA arrested 36 people Wednesday morning, and unsealed indictments charging a total of 45 individuals with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In addition to arrests in Puerto Rico, a DEA official says three American Airlines employees were arrested in the mainland U.S. -- two in Miami and one in Dallas.

The DEA alleges members of the La Flaca ring used their company's baggage vehicles to take suitcases stuffed with cocaine and place them directly on commercial flights. The ring would also allegedly bring cocaine into airport employee-only restrooms, where ring members would hand backpacks full of cocaine to drug couriers who would then board planes. The ring allegedly shipped cocaine to Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Orlando, among other cities.

The American Airlines ring was disrupted by the DEA in 2009 in an operation called Heavy Cargo. Twenty-three people, including nine American Airlines employees, were indicted, and Rodriguez and 21 others pled guilty. According to authorities, members of the ring transported suitcases full of cocaine from the American Airlines cargo area and onto American Airlines flights bound for such cities as Newark, New York, Miami and Orlando. The DEA Wednesday announced indictments of 20 more individuals who were allegedly involved in the smuggling ring.

The arrests come 13 years after the DEA's Operation Ramp Rats, in which the agency busted 59 individuals, most of them American Airlines employees, for alleged involvement in drug smuggling at Miami International and JFK. While some workers were acquitted, dozens were convicted or pled guilty. More recently, the DEA brought drug smuggling charges against airline or airport workers in 2007 and 2010.

"DEA will continue to dismantle these organizations that think they can blatantly use legitimate entities to carry out their smuggling operations," said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Caribbean Division, Pedro Janer.

DEA Deputy Administrator Thomas M. Harrigan said Wednesday, "Americans have a right to expect the highest integrity from those they entrust with their safety, and DEA is committed to protecting that trust. Wednesday's arrests at one of the nation's busiest airports reflect our relentless commitment to working with our partners to aggressively fight drug trafficking, not only at our nation's points of entry, but at source, transit, and arrival zones throughout the world."

The defendants in both cases are facing a minimum term of 10 years to life if convicted on all charges.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Colombia Secret Service Prostitution Scandal Spreads to the DEA

Eric Kayne/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A month after the Secret Service was rocked by allegations that agents brought prostitutes to a Colombia hotel where they were preparing for a visit by President Obama, the Drug Enforcement Administration Monday announced that at least three of its agents are also under investigation for allegedly hiring prostitutes in Cartagena.

Two of the agents allegedly had encounters with masseuses in the apartment of one of the agents, according to Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"It's disturbing that we may be uncovering a troubling culture that spans more than one law enforcement agency," the Maine Republican said Monday evening. "In addition to the Secret Service scandal, we now learn that at least two DEA agents apparently entertained female foreign national masseuses in the Cartagena apartment of one of the agents. The evidence uncovered thus far indicates that this likely was not just a one-time incident."

The revelations that Secret Service personnel had been drinking heavily and cavorting with prostitutes ahead of Obama's trip to Colombia last month overshadowed the president's trip to the Summit of the Americas. Twelve members of the military were also investigated for allegedly hiring prostitutes.

Eight of the 12 Secret Service employees implicated in the scandal lost their jobs, another is in the process of losing his security clearances, and three agents were cleared of serious misconduct but still could be disciplined. The military has completed its investigation but no disciplinary action has been carried out.

"The Drug Enforcement Administration was provided information from the Secret Service unrelated to the Cartagena hotel Secret Service incident, which DEA immediately followed up on, making DEA employees available to be interviewed by the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General," a DEA spokesperson said in a statement.

"DEA takes allegations of misconduct very seriously and will take appropriate personnel action, if warranted, upon the conclusion of the OIG investigation," the statement said.

A spokesman for the OIG said the DEA is cooperating in the investigation, which is being coordinated with the Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, and the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.

The DEA has agents posted in Colombia to work on counter-narcotic and drug interdiction missions with Colombian authorities. According to officials the agents were among those assigned in Colombia, they were not specifically working on the President's trip.

The revelations about the DEA agents comes ahead of a hearing scheduled on Wednesday with Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Student Abandoned in DEA Cell for 5 Days to Sue for $20 Million

Kevin Horan/Stone(SAN DIEGO) -- A 23-year-old California college student who was left in a dark federal detention cell for five days without food, water, or a toilet has filed a claim against the U.S. government for $20 million.

The lawyer for Daniel Chong, a senior at the University of California at San Diego, said his client was subjected to "torture" after Drug Enforcement Agency officers forgot he was placed in a holding cell, where he languished for nearly a week, drinking his own urine and contemplating his death.

The five-page claim is the first legally required step before filing a lawsuit, Chong's lawyer, Gene Iredale, told ABC News.

On Wednesday the DEA apologized to Chong and announced an investigation into the incident.

"I am deeply troubled by the incident that occurred here last week. I extend my deepest apologies to the young man and want to express that this event is not indicative of the high standards that I hold my employees to. I have personally ordered an extensive review of our policies and procedures," William R. Sherman, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA office in San Diego, said in a statement.

Chong was arrested by federal agents on April 21, following a raid on a friend's house, where agents believe the drug Ecstasy was being dealt.

Chong and eight other suspects were arrested at the house, where agents allegedly found 18,000 Ecstasy pills as well as guns and ammunition. The nine were all taken to the DEA's office and booked. Seven suspects were taken to a county jail and another was released. Chong, however, was left in a holding cell and forgotten.

Chong was ultimately brought to Sharp Memorial Hospital, suffering from severe dehydration and kidney failure. He spent three days in the intensive care unit.

Chong was released from the hospital Sunday. According to his lawyer, he "is recovering, but still in a weakened state. He remains badly shaken, but is recovering his mental stability as rapidly as can be expected."

The DEA confirmed that a white substance found in Chong's cell after he was discovered tested positive for methamphetamine. His lawyer said the drug was left in Chong's cell.

"This is an extraordinary story of incredible and inexplicable ineptitude, needless suffering and great courage in the face of something inconceivably ugly," Iredale told ABC News.

Iredale said the conditions in which Chong was held are tantamount to torture and the "pain he suffered goes beyond pain suffered by detainees suffered at Guantanamo or major figures who were waterboarded."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


DEA Moves Against Major Pharmaceutical Distributor

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Twenty-five hundred pharmacies in the southeast could lose their supplies of oxycodone and other prescription drugs because the federal Drug Enforcement Agency believes the company that supplies them, Cardinal Health, is failing to comply with the rules.

Pharmaceutical distributors like Cardinal Health are supposed to report suspicious activities to the feds; the DEA says Cardinal Health didn't when two CVS pharmacies they supply in Florida dispensed more than 40 times the normal amount of oxycodone and other painkillers.

Cardinal Health blamed CVS for any lack of diligence.

CVS said it has already stopped filling painkiller prescriptions written by certain doctors.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Feds Arrest Ten in First-Ever 'Bath Salts' Bust

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Ten people were arrested on Tuesday by federal agents and charged in the first-ever federal prosecution dealing with "bath salts," a dangerous new designer drug that has been linked to emergency room visits and deaths across the country.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said a Seattle-area supplier led the ring and shipped the bath salts to a handful of New York City head shops. The bust was the first for a recently developed New York-based DEA task force targeting bath salts, a group of substances sold in convenience stores and head shops that mimic the effects of cocaine or ecstasy.

"This is so new to us," said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne. "In the last year it's just taken off in the U.S. -- we've never seen anything like it."

"Bath salts are one of the latest designer drugs to reach our shores, and they have proven to be a public health and safety menace with dangerous, and sometimes deadly, consequences," said Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where nine of the arrests were made.

"Bath salts" were the subject of a June 3 ABC News 20/20 investigation that found that despite being linked to several deaths, bath salts have been sold in stores and online with little oversight.

"Bath salts" have spurred approximately 2,500 calls to poison control centers nationwide since 2010, and have been connected to four deaths so far this year, including a 23-year-old Florida man and a 51-year-old woman in West Virginia.

The 26-year-old who authorities say is the "bath salt" ring's supplier, Miguel Ashby, was arrested in Washington State and charged with distribution of controlled substances. If convicted he could serve 20 years in prison.

The other nine defendants were employed at New York City head shops, including Addiction NYC, Tattoo Heaven, Crazy Fantasy Tattoo and Smoking Culture, and were arrested on charges related to either distribution of controlled substances, receipt of misbranded drugs, or delivery of misbranded drugs.

Authorities were able to charge the alleged drug ring under the Federal Analog Act, which allows any chemical that is "substantially similar" to a controlled substance to be treated as a controlled substance. Spokesman Rusty Payne said the DEA had invoked the Analog Act "for other drugs," but the new case marks the first time it's ever been done with bath salts.

There is no federal ban on all bath salt products, but more than 35 states have banned at least some of the chemicals commonly found in the drugs. Louisiana put an emergency ban on the drugs immediately after Dickie Sanders' death. In late April, New Jersey banned the manufacture, sale or possession of bath salts, and in May New York followed suit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mexican Drug Cartels Trying to Expand Marijuana Shipments to US

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- An investigation by ABC's Nightline has discovered that Mexican cartels have recently been trying to expand marijuana shipments into the United States by the tens of thousands.

Nightline was granted exclusive and unprecedented access to U.S. DEA agents and Customs and Border Protection officers who interdict, store and destroy tons of marijuana.  The investigation takes a look at the scale and reach of the Mexican cartels who are fueled by 25.8 million American marijuana users.

Government investigators estimate that the cartels have boosted their production by a whopping 59 percent since 2003, leading them to conclude that the Mexican organizations "represent the single greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States," an official said.  Officials estimate that the drug cartels' profits are between $18 and $39 billion annually.

According to Mexican and U.S. officials (who requested that their names and ranks not be used), marijuana smuggling has contributed to 35,000 deaths along the border in the past five years.

These discoveries come on the heels of a bill being introduced in the House by Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) to remove the federal roadblock to state marijuana reform.

Nightline was present in the midst of a two-week stretch of U.S. officials' destroying more than $100 million worth of marijuana at two top-secret facilities in an undisclosed location in the American Southwest.

"Marijuana is the number one cash crop for the cartels in Mexico," said assistant special DEA agent Mel Rodriguez.  "The moneys, the proceeds from the sale of the marijuana ultimately go to finance other illegal activities for the cartel, such as [the] purchase of weapons and additional resources."

"Additional resources" include funding armies of criminals who have fought the U.S. and Mexican governments.

U.S. officials use a variety of tools to find contraband, including an army of agents, Border Patrol's drug-sniffing dogs, mobile X-ray machines, even special cameras to slide down gas tanks to hunt for drugs.

Drug lords use every tactic to transport drugs, cash and guns: submarines, tunnels, ultra-light planes.  They also still use men on foot -- so-called "mules."

After U.S. agents seize the drugs, they are moved into a secret facility -- one of the most restricted government rooms in the nation that, until now, no television journalist had ever been allowed in before.   ABC's Nightline crew had to sign papers just to walk from room to room, and no employee working there could be identified in our report.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Taxpayer Money Created 'Legal Marijuana' Used by Teens

Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government might not be scrambling to ban "Spice," the "legal marijuana" that's sending teens to emergency rooms across the country, if it hadn't helped invent the drug in the first place.

As detailed in an ABC News 20/20 investigation, Spice, K2 and other substances in a new wave of legal designer drugs are widely available at convenience stores and suburban malls, though they've been responsible for more than 4,000 calls to the nation's poison control centers in the past year.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has placed an emergency ban on a handful of the chemicals that are used to make Spice, but there are hundreds more chemicals readily available – most of them designed by Clemson University scientist John W. Huffman using a grant from the government's National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Over the course of a decade, Huffman created nearly 500 "cannabinoids" that affect the brain in a much more powerful way than THC, the active component in marijuana. About five years ago, entrepreneurs began spraying the chemicals he invented on plant matter to create "legal marijuana."

"I figured that somewhere along the line, some enterprising individual would try to smoke it," Huffman told ABC News in a recent interview. But, said Huffman, given the dangers of the chemicals, anybody who smokes them "is incredibly foolish."

"They're playing Russian roulette," he said. "I mean, it's just like taking a pistol with one bullet in it and spinning the chamber and holding it to your head and pulling the trigger."

Huffman first obtained the NIDA grant in 1984, which ultimately totaled $2,564,000, when the government asked him to synthesize the human metabolite of THC.

In the 1990s, NIDA asked him to switch gears and either develop medicine or study the "cannabinoid receptors" in the brain, which respond to marijuana.

Huffman and coworkers began creating a family of cannabinoid chemicals in his laboratory, all of them identified with his initials and a number.

In the summer of 1994, one of the undergraduate students working in his lab created JWH-018, a strong cannabinoid that is easy to make and is now the "JWH" chemical most likely to be found in Spice and other similar products.

"JWH-018 can be made by a halfway-decent undergraduate chemistry major in three steps from commercially available materials," said Huffman.

In 2005, Huffman published a paper that included detailed synthetic procedure for making all of the compounds in the JWH class. By then, there were 465.

Within a year, JWH-018 and related substances were being used as recreational drugs in Europe.

"I assume that somebody picked our papers, and saw a way to make some money," said Huffman.

In the past year alone there have been 4,000 calls into poison control centers relating to the drugs. Side effects include heart rate stimulation, blood pressure elevation, anxiety, and hallucinations. "Beyond the acute effects [there] are psychiatric effects that have led individuals to harm themselves, sometimes fatally, and exhibit extreme paranoia and delusions not unlike schizophrenia or other psychoses," said Anthony Scalzo, director of the Missouri Poison Control Center.

The DEA put an emergency ban on the sale of JWH-018 and one other JWH chemical in March, along with three other chemicals commonly found in Spice.

The irony that the government funded the chemicals now being examined by the DEA has not eluded lobbyists for retail stores who sell the Spice and K2.

"The vast majority of these chemicals were created with government financial support," said Dan Francis, executive director of the Retail Compliance Association, a coalition of head shops who sell the products.

"It's a three- to five-billion-dollar industry," said Francis, who says that Spice products should be regulated but not outlawed.

Huffman says he has his own doubts that prohibition would work, but emphasizes that the people who are selling Spice already know it's bad for humans, based on anecdotal evidence, even if no scientific research has been completed. "The physiological effects of these compounds have never been examined in humans," said Huffman. "There have been a number of cases of people who've committed suicide after using them."

DEA Special Agent Gary Boggs says the agency has to gather enough research on any specific chemical before any substance is controlled. The five chemicals that are now banned are those that the agency found most often in Spice products.

"We're going to continue to look at other chemicals that are out there that are being sold in an effort to circumvent the control of those five substances," said Boggs.

Sen. Check Grassley, R.-Iowa, has proposed legislation that would ban all the JWH chemicals so that Spice makers can't simply switch recipes.

Huffman said that despite the unintended use of his chemicals that have had devastating effects on teens, he is proud of his research, which could potentially lead to the development of new medicines.

"If somebody wants to misuse it, it is the responsibility of the people who misuse it to take responsibility for their own actions," said Huffman, who retired from Clemson in 2010.

A NIDA spokesperson defended the agency's funding for Huffman's research, saying that studying "artificial variations of brain chemicals...has yielded major research and clinical advances."

Research into cannabinoids, said the spokesperson, "has the potential to usher in the next generation of pain medications," as well as possible treatments for obesity and multiple sclerosis.

"The scientific record demonstrates that the cost of discontinuing the pursuit of potentially life-saving medications, because such compounds could be illegally diverted and abused, would be unacceptably high."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


After 20 Years, DEA Sex Discrimination Case Ends

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock LikeViews: 0(WASHINGTON) -- It took her 20 years, but Ann Garcia, a retired special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, finally won her battle against her former employer.

In 1992, Garcia brought a lawsuit against the DEA, arguing that she and some 200 other female agents had tried repeatedly to obtain plum overseas assignments but were blocked because the agency discriminated against them based on their sex.

Late last month, a federal administrative judge ruled that the DEA had "repeatedly and purposefully" discriminated against the class of female agents in the early '90s, and that the women had been treated less favorably than their male counterparts at the DEA.

The case was pending for two decades at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination in the private and federal sectors.

Garcia couldn't believe it took so long for the judge to rule on the merits of the case.

"It's been going on for almost 20 years," said Garcia. "The women of DEA suffered blatant discrimination in the workplace for years, decades. The ruling is a testament to the strength and the courage of many DEA agents who refused to accept the status quo."

In her ruling, Administrative Judge Frances del Toro wrote, "Although many qualified females applied for overseas positions, males were routinely selected over equally or better qualified female agents."

The next phase of the case will focus on damages.

"What we are hoping for is relief for all these women who lost out on foreign assignments, which could include back pay and compensatory damages for the pain and suffering they experienced. Those amounts will be different for each woman, but the EEOC allows for a maximum of $300,000 per person for compensatory damages relief," said Cathy Harris, Garcia's attorney from the firm Kator Parks & Weiser.

For now, Garcia, who is spending her retirement in New Mexico, is grateful for the judge's decision. "I just hope that DEA can recognize that injustices were done, " she said, "and do the right thing by the women of DEA. "

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DEA Raids Pill Mills in Florida and Arrests Doctors

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MIAMI) -- On Wednesday, agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and local police swept across South Florida, arresting individuals suspected of illegally prescribing painkillers and other prescription drugs to patients who often have nothing wrong with them.

The arrests were part of a yearlong probe that centered on Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties and involved undercover agents purchasing prescription drugs. Authorities say there are hundreds of pain clinics throughout the region that are involved in the illegal activity. The clinics are also known as "pill mills" because people come there to get prescriptions, often with no questions being asked.

"Thousands of people from all over the Eastern Seaboard are coming to South Florida to illegally buy prescription drugs," said DEA agent, Anthony Angeli. "People will come in vans, eight or ten people at a time. They get the scripts, and they go back."

Angeli said when they return home, the pills usually end up on the black market.

South Florida is ground zero in the nation's war against prescription drug abuse. State officials recently said that 85 percent of all oxycodone pills sold in the U.S. come from Florida and the top 50 medical prescribers of such drugs are located in the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 20,000 people a year are dying from prescription drug overdose, including seven a day in Florida. Over the last decade the number of such deaths has more than tripled.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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