Category: General Drug War

Morning Links

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Watch Me on HuffPost Live

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

I just did my first segment on HuffPost, along with one-time Agitator guest blogger Alyona Minkovski and friend-of-the-Agitator Jack Cole, one of the co-founders of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The topic was terrorism and the drug war.

You can watch here.

Defend the Right to Carry Cash and Travel Unmolested

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

Thanks to the hard work of Americans for Forfeiture Reform policy analyst Scott Meiner, AFR has been asked to submit an amicus brief in an asset forfeiture case that is being appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Below is a brief video I’ve made describing the case (yes, I know the video quality isn’t great; we haven’t had the money for a HD camera yet):


Meiner describes the Terrence Durr seizure and litigation in his post, “A Peculiar Idea of Proof“:

United States District Judge Clay D. Land has ordered the forfeiture of $21,175 seized from two ex-convicts by Deputy Drew Crane, of the Harris County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office.

Neither of the men were convicted, arrested, or charged. No drugs or drug paraphernalia were reported on the men from whom the currency was seized. The claimant of the currency, Terrance Durr, has a 1996 felony drug conviction and a subsequent parole violation. Durr also has documented gainful employment–including an 8 year work history as a draft technician with Adam’s Beverage, an Anheuser Busch distributor.

The government presented no specific cognizable evidence of any drug transaction (or intended drug transaction) linking the currency to any specific illicit behavior. Durr presented evidence of why he had a substantial amount of cash on his person. The court found Durr’s evidence, and reasoning, unpersuasive.

What the ruling appears to boil down to is

  1. Durr is an ex-con;
  2. Durr had a fairly large amount of currency;
  3. The police wanted his currency;
  4. The police found his currency;
  5. Police recorded a positive K9 alert on his currency and on his companion’s vehicle;
  6. The officer said that the vehicle smelled of alcohol and marijuana;
  7. Durr cannot prove that his money was not intended, or derived from, something to do with drugs to the satisfaction of the court; and
  8. Thus, the government has “proved” that Durr’s cash constitutes proceeds traceable to an exchange for a controlled substance.

This is utter nonsense.

Durr may have intended to use the money for narcotics. Or perhaps he was going to do something else. We do not know. Nobody else knows either–except maybe Terrance Durr.

Durr presented evidence that he intended to travel to Atlanta, GA to negotiate with a bank on the imminent foreclosure of a dilapidated rental property that he owned. Prosecutors easily poked holes in the sensibility of his plan. However, they failed to offer evidence that the money was drug related–unless we are to assume that the means, a criminal record, and unreliable evidence meet the burden. Following this standard of proof would add a lot of forfeiture victims.

There are infinite possibilities as to how he got the money and to what he intended to do with it–whether they be licit or illicit.   But reasonable jurisprudence ought to tether forfeiture to a showing of substantial connection between specific articulated criminal acts and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

AFR’s amicus brief will likely focus on the insufficiency of the nexus issue (that is to say, the complete government’s inability to establish a nexus between any crime and the seized cash and Judge Land’s breathtaking leaps of logic to justify the forfeiture).

Please donate to support AFR’s efforts on this front!

Tennessee Tales: A Review Of Misappropriations, Missing Funds, Improper Accounting, & Stolen Drugs

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Scott Meiner, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

Recent tales of asset forfeiture abuse in Tennessee sparked my curiosity as to how Tennessee law enforcement departments are handling (or mishandling) seized property. I am looking for credible accounts (relevant to asset forfeiture) of misappropriation of funds, stolen drugs, improper accounting, et cetera… I’ve concentrated my search on smaller departments with the thought that a couple of bad apples in Memphis do not (statistically) imply a great deal. However, I welcome any articles or reports contributors suggest. Blatant malfeasance in small departments strikes us as more descriptive of the problem and more supportive of the argument that permitting law enforcement to self-appropriate the fruits of seizures abrogates the power of the purse (castrating the electorate’s power to compel responsive government).

Contact @ scott[at]forfeiturereform.com

Initial findings:

3rd Judicial District Drug Task Force: Pervasive accounting deficiencies.

4th Judicial District Drug Task Force: DTF agent indicted for two counts of theft of Drug Task Force funds after $5,700 goes missing.

10th Judicial District Drug Task Force: $4,500 shortage in evidence and confidential funds. A  In excess of $17,000 in 10th Judicial District DTF credit charges lacked adequate documentation including $6,800 with no documentation. Quality reporting from Judy Walton of the Times Free Press reveals that, between 2008 and 2010, 10th Judicial District DTF agents spent more than $100,000 of seizure proceeds on hotels, meals, mileage and airfare. Walton also reported that former “DTF Director Mike Hall’s drug task force credit card was used to charge more than $50,000 between 2008 and 2010 on meals for himself, task force members and guests at local restaurants, as well as gifts, flowers and goodies for co-workers and office secretaries, credit card receipts show.”

12th Judicial District Drug Task Force: Failed 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim reveals that local DTF paid 20% ‘referral fees’ to at least one informant for seizures leading to DTF forfeiture proceeds as a bounty.

13th Judicial District Drug Task Force: An employee improperly charged personal expenses to Drug Task Force accounts resulting in a cash shortage of $10,000.

17th Judicial District Drug Task Force: At a motion to suppress hearing, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger notes: ”Essentially, all of [17th Judicial District Interdiction Agent] Daugherty’s traffic stops are pretextual attempts to find illegal drugs.” [Incidentally, Daugherty was the 2008 national runnerup for interdiction officer of the year-based on numerical measure of of productivity.] Under oath, Daugherty admits that DTF funding is reliant on seizure revenues. When asked by defense counsel: ‘”Is it a fair statement that part of the reason that you were up by the Kentucky border at least 100 miles away from your four counties was the fact that it’s better hunting grounds up there?” Daugherty agrees that the drug-related activity in that area is “better.”” Judge suppresses Daugherty’s testimony after noting that she finds his testimony unconvincing and speculates why Daugherty does not employ available equipment to document cause for stops.

23rd Judicial District Drug Task Force: Sloppy accounting and a missing $54,000 in seized currency. NewsChannel 5 Investigates reports that “that officers with the 23rd have been paid thousands of dollars in bonuses, some years higher than others.” DA denies bonuses are tied to drug busts or amount of money officers seize. NewsChannel 5 Investigates presents evidence that motorists are being pulled over for fictitious traffic violations after the Dickson Police Chief, who serves as chairman of the board for the 23rd Judicial District DTF, claims: ”Every time they stop somebody it is a legal traffic stop.”

24th Judicial District Drug Task Force: Cash, guns, drugs, jewelry, and equipment under the control of the Drug Task Force were misused, stolen, and/or lost. Falsified records. Theft and smoking of crack cocaine stored in evidence, missing marijuana, etc. Drug Task Force Director at the time of the offenses “charged with one count of theft, one count of official misconduct and one count of knowingly giving a false statement to an auditor.” DTF’sAdministrative Assistant charged several days later with “one count of theft and one count of knowingly giving a false statement to an auditor.”

Crump Police Department: Multiple unauthorized removals of various seized drugs.

Dickson County Sheriff’s Office: Missing drug money. Fraud. Forgery.

Etowah Police Department: Seized drugs, cash, and guns missing.

Gallaway Police Department: Missing guns, guns issued to non-law enforcement, allegations of duplicate pay for police chief.

Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office: Sheriff’s Office employees alleged misconduct results in $14,000 cash shortage from missing commissary funds and use of an unofficial receipt book.

Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office: Deputy initially “arrested and charged with one count of burglary, one count of theft and one count of tampering with evidence” after narcotics go missing from the evidence room. Charges grow to 68 counts.

Henry County Sheriff’s Office: Sheriff and sheriff’s office business manager indicted after audit finds $162,000 shortage and falsified records, mail fraud, conspiracy, etc.

Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office: “A Lauderdale County deputy sheriff repeatedly spent undercover funds for unauthorized purposes and falsified documents to cover his tracks, a report by the Comptroller’s Division of County Audit has found.”

McMinn County Sheriff’s Office: Deputy indicted for one count of official oppression. Deputy accused of stealing prescription drugs from motorists.

Monterey Police Department: Guns and some $30,000 gso missing. Former police chief pleads guilty to theft. Allegations that the current police diverted asset forfeiture funds to pay for the use of a bulldozer on his property leads local District Attorney to call for an investigation.

Sequatchie County Sheriff’s Office: Missing commissary funds and missing cash taken from inmates at processing.

Trenton Police Department: $73,000 in cash goes missing from police department. Police chief and his secretary are purportedly the only individuals with access. Town officials have no explanations.

Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office: Sheriff  indicted on multiple felony charges including “six counts official misconduct, one count of theft over $1,000, one count of tampering with evidence, one count of criminal simulation and one count of attempted aggravated assault.”

Wayne County Sheriff’s Office: Sheriff’s office sells vehicles for cash. Cash never recorded. Cash goes missing.

Wilson County Sheriff’s Office: Former Lieutenant accused of, among other things, falsely claiming to witness a drug deal between two men, holding the men at gunpoint, falsely arresting them and seizing their vehicles and cash, forging documents in an attempt to claim ownership of (several) other vehicles seized by the sheriff’s office, checking out unknown amounts of marijuana from the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office evidence room and arranging for its sale at personal gain, selling confidential information to the target of a drug investigation, burglarizing the residence of his former girlfriend to give the stolen items to his wife as gifts, and attempting to poison his wife. Bunch of other stuff gone too-including disappeared cocaine.

Whitwell Police Department: former police chief and former city recorder arrested for theft.

Nita Ghei’s Column On BATFE’s New Asset Forfeiture Authority

Friday, September 7th, 2012

 

Scott Meiner, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

Nita Ghei has a great Op-Ed at the Washington Times on the new authority given to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF or BATFE) to seize and administratively forfeit property allegedly involved in Controlled Substance Act offenses. The Op-Ed is spot on except a clarification might be useful. Ghei’s Op-Ed could be misread as implying that without the rule change, BATFE lacks power to seize and administratively forfeit property. That is not the case. BATFE already enjoys broad power to seize and administratively forfeit. However, it currently has to to tie the seizure to some specific offense (within its authority)-even if there is no charge or conviction against a person. In practice, expanding BATFE authority to seize and administratively forfeit for controlled substance offenses is granting BATFE authority to use fill-in-the-blank catch-alls for seizures and forfeitures.

Courts often accept that unexplained property possession is drug related-even when there is no direct evidence of drugs. Bulk currency is the obvious example but it could be anything. In theory, that would (and should) be the same with controlled substance act violations. In practice, it is not.

The Column:

The Obama administration is making it easier for bureaucrats to take away guns without offering the accused any realistic due process. In a final rule published last week, the Justice Department granted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) authority to “seize and administratively forfeit property involved in controlled-substance abuses.” That means government can grab firearms and other property from someone who has never been convicted or even charged with any crime.

It’s a dangerous extension of the civil-forfeiture doctrine, a surreal legal fiction in which the seized property — not a person — is put on trial. This allows prosecutors to dispense with pesky constitutional rights, which conveniently don’t apply to inanimate objects. In this looking-glass world, the owner is effectively guilty until proved innocent and has the burden of proving otherwise. Anyone falsely accused will never see his property again unless he succeeds in an expensive uphill legal battle.

Such seizures are common in drug cases, which sometimes can ensnare people who have done nothing wrong. James Lieto found out about civil forfeiture the hard way when the FBI seized $392,000 from his business because the money was being carried by an armored-car firm he had hired that had fallen under a federal investigation. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Mr. Lieto was never accused of any crime, yet he spent thousands in legal fees to get his money back.

Law enforcement agencies love civil forfeiture because it’s extremely lucrative. The Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund had $2.8 billion in booty in 2011, according to a January audit. Seizing guns from purported criminals is nothing new; Justice destroyed or kept 11,355 guns last year, returning just 396 to innocent owners. The new ATF rule undoubtedly is designed to ramp up the gun-grabbing because, as the rule justification claims, “The nexus between drug trafficking and firearm violence is well established.”

The main problem is that civil forfeiture creates a perverse profit motive, leaving bureaucrats with strong incentives to abuse a process that doesn’t sufficiently protect those who may be wrongly accused. Criminal forfeiture is more appropriate because it’s tied to a conviction in a court with the option of a jury trial and evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Innocents like Mr. Lieto have to fight against the might of the U.S. government with a watered-down standard that stacks the legal deck so prosecutors can get a quick win.

The rule extending civil-forfeiture power to the ATF recognizes this dynamic, stating with perhaps unconscious cynicism that an uncontested civil forfeiture “can be perfected for minimal cost” compared to the “hundreds or thousands of dollars” and “years” needed for judicial forfeiture. Nowhere is there any recognition of the burden placed on innocent citizens stripped of their property, or of the erosion of their civil liberties. In fact, the rule argues that, because in the past the ATF could turn over requests for civil forfeiture to the Drug Enforcement Administration, there has been no change in “individual rights.”

Instead of expanding the profit motive in policing, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should be working to eliminate it.” Nita Ghei, “GHEI: ATF’s latest gun grab Agency reduces due process for seizing firearms,” The Washington Times, 6 Sept. 2012

Legendary Federal Judge Richard Posner Endorses Marijuana Legalization

Friday, September 7th, 2012

The entire speech is worth listening to, but for those interested in Posner’s statement on marijuana you could start listening at about the 54th minute:

 

-Eapen Thampy

9th Circuit Appellate Court Rejects Government’s Argument That Claimants Who Deny Currency Ownership To The Police Concede Article III Standing To Challenge Attempted Forfeitures

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Scott Alexander Meiner, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

Michael Simard prevailed on a civil asset forfeiture and Article III case or controversy standing question before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The federal government argued, among other things, that a possessor of currency who denied knowledge of, or interest in, possessed currency, at the scene of an investigatory stop and seizure, conceded Article III case or controversy standing to subsequently claim ownership and/or possessor interest in the currency. For purposes of ownership interest, at this point, the appellate court saw otherwise. The appellate court reversed the district court and found (while implicitly rejecting the government’s position in regards to ownership interest):

” The district court erred in granting the motion to strike by applying the standard of proof for a claimant asserting a possessory, rather than an ownership, interest in property. In a civil forfeiture proceeding, “[a]t the motion to dismiss stage, a claimant’s unequivocal assertion of an ownership interest in the property is sufficient by itself to establish standing.” USA v. Michael Simard, et al., No. 11-15528 (9th Cir. Aug. 27, 2012)(unpublished).

Parties seeking to claim property facing federal in rem (against the thing) forfeiture actions carry the burden of establishing their own constitutional standing at all stages of litigation. Without Article III case or controversy standing, federal courts lack jurisdiction to hear the claim.

The government’s argument, if successful, threatened to further escalate incentivization of coercive seizure tactics while reducing access to the courts-eliminating it for some. Many parties who suffered currency seizures would effectively be left with no option but to petition the agency for remission or mitigation-a plea for the agency and agents (who often havefinancial and professional incentives to say no) to be merciful.

Mr. Simard and his attorneys, Ronald N Richards and Louis Palazzo, deserve congratulations on their victory. The matter has been remanded to the district court where the matter will be further litigated. Among possible issues to be discussed in further litigation include the government’s contentions:

  • Asking for a consent to search on the pretense of a “current threat assessment and homeland security issues” is not coercive [It should be noted that Simard is Canadian. The U.S. Government's role in sending Canadian Maher Arar to his native Syria for a year of torture is better known in Canada than it is in the U.S.]
  • Simard’s vehicle being ”cluttered with several snacks” [while on a road trip] was indicative of a courier smuggling drugs or drug proceeds.
  • The use of a rental car was indicative of a courier smuggling drugs or drug proceeds.
  • The presence of an ”atlas on the front right passenger seat” was indicative of a courier smuggling drugs or drug proceeds.
  • The presence of a “black backpack on the right front floor board [which] would hold insufficient clothing for the road trip” was indicative of a courier smuggling drugs or drug proceeds. [This was was prior to officers finding further luggage-presumably in his trunk where a good number of people keep luggage.]
  • The presence of multiple duplicate electronic devices was indicative of a courier smuggling drugs or drug proceeds.
  • Simard was no longer detained after officers told him that he could go but then came back and starting asking more questions, secured a signature to consent to search his rental, and seized the currency in his possession.
  • That a positive canine sniff on bulk currency was (and is) a reliable indicator of recent exposure to illegal controlled substances and thus a reliable indicator that the currency was either intended to be used to purchase illegal drugs or constitutes proceeds of illegal drug sales.
Addendum: Scott Greenfield (Simple Justice) notes in the comments:

The importance of this ruling is that the denial at the time of seizure (“It’s not mine; I’ve never seen that money before.”) no longer binds the claimant in a subsequent forfeiture proceeding. This is good, though it doesn’t make the claimant look either truthful or innocent, but that can’ be helped as he’s already denied ownership. At least it gets him into the game.

As for the factors mentioned, the burden to the government is probable cause, and it’s based on the totality of circumstances. It’s typical in a forfeiture proceeding to break down the circumstances into small bites to create the sense of a substantial number of factors that support probable cause. The claimant’s response would be that he was on a road trip, like millions of people innocently enjoy regularly every year, negating many of the circumstances.

The problem, obviously, is that millions of people on innocent road trips don’t have bulk currency in the car. The burden shifts to the claimant, after the government has proven probable cause, to prove that the currency was legitimately owned and possessed for lawful purposes. While the win on standing is a good decision, whether Simard can prevail on his claim is another matter…

Leah Maurer on Experiencing a SWAT Raid in Columbia, Missouri

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

-Eapen Thampy

Jason Zepps hosted a community sound-off on this afternoon’s “Shadow Convention” coverage of the War on Drugs by Huffington Post Live. I wanted to point this segment out as it contains an account of another marijuana SWAT raid by the infamous Columbia Police Department. Leah Maurer narrates at 11:05; I am providing a rough transcription because I can’t embed the video, so you should click through and listen:

…My husband and I were involved in a home invasion by ten armed men in a SWAT team style raid on our house…we had no prior record…this was in Missouri, where we used to live… Only someone who’s lived through that can speak to the horror that you have to go through and having to have your civil liberties violated in that way by this overarching force like Walter referenced earlier the way that police forces have become so empowered and people have begun to fear them and it’s because of things like this when yo uhave three men that are three times my size holding machine guns at me when I have a harmless plant growing in my basement…

…I believe that they came into the house, and they found what they were looking for, and that after that all they continued to look for was money. I think they were trying to find a lot of money, which we had none…they ripped our whole house apart looking for that, because what they were looking for was pretty obvious, the grow was pretty obvious…

…We relocated 2000 miles away from them because after having our house drug through like that, not only did that happen but our faces were all over the media in this tiny little city in Missouri, we lost friends over it, my children were treated differently because of it, it was a pretty horrific experience and we just knew we had to get out. My husband was arrested because of it and is now a felon and is now serving probation…

…We were two people who completely had our liberties taken from us that day…

Sunday Morning Peace Blogging

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

-Eapen Thampy

In the Washington Times, “Caravan for Peace crosses U.S. to highlight the failed War on Drugs“, excerpt:

This  August in conjunction with the Mexican Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, a high profile Caravan of Peace is crossing the U.S., starting in San Diego/Los Angeles area, heading east along the U.S.-Mexico border and then swinging north to Chicago, and cross to Cleveland, New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. to heighten the awareness of the failed “War on Drugs.”

The 6,000-mile journey through 20 cities is to honor lives lost due to the failed prohibition policies, culminating in an international day of action in Washington, D.C.

These days it is almost impossible to listen to the national news without reading about the rapidly escalating drug-related violence in Mexico, most particularly the areas of Mexico that share a common border with the United States.

The deadly mayhem and the greed that fuels it recognizes no borders, often making the American side of these drug war zones just an extension of their battlefield. Both sides of the border are tired of law enforcement’s failed efforts to put an end to the bloodshed and the breakdown of society in general.

So weary in fact, that renowned Mexican poet Javier Sicilia has become the primary spokesperson for the Mexican Movement for Peace with Justice  & Dignity (MPJD). Also joining MPJD on the Caravan of Peace will be a broad bi-national coalition of 100 organizations.

U.S.-based organizations and foundations including the Latin American Working Group, Washington Office on Latin America, The RFK Center, regional leaders of the Brady Campaign, Heeding God’s Call, Presente.org, LCLAA, NALAAC, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Fellowship of Reconciliation, Veterans for Peace, Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Alliance, and many others, who realize a new approach is required.

To illustrate the gravity of the problem, Sicilia points out that more than 60,000 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico in the last few years. More than 10,000 people have been disappeared and over 160,000 displaced.

“Our purpose is to honor our victims, to make their names and faces visible,” Sicilia said. “We will travel across the United States to raise awareness of the unbearable pain and loss caused by the drug war – and of the enormous shared responsibility for protecting families and communities in both our countries.”

Link via Law Enforcement Against Prohibition executive director Neill Franklin, who adds:

Traveling with the Caravan for Peace, meeting poet Javier Sicilia and fellowshipping with the many families who have lost love ones at the hands of the cartel has been one of the most rewarding moments in my life. The courage exemplified by my Mexican brothers and sisters is extraordinary. Traveling into a foreign land with threats upon their lives, placing their safety into the hands of complete strangers, all in an effort of asking the US federal government for help in changing policies responsible for the carnage in their country takes faith – a lot of faith. I certainly hope they listen to the voice of reason. I pray they have hearts of compassion.

The Brutal, Fatal Calculus of Policing for Profit

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

Sarah Stillman has an excellent article on the use of confidential informants in drug cases in the United States this week in the New Yorker:

Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s provide an inexpensive way to outsource the work of undercover officers. “The system makes it cheap and easy to use informants, as opposed to other, less risky but more cumbersome approaches,” says Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants. “There are fewer procedures in place and fewer institutional checks on their use.” Often, deploying informants involves no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny; their use is necessarily shrouded in secrecy.

“They can get us into the places we can’t go,” says Brian Sallee, a police officer who is the president of B.B.S. Narcotics Enforcement Training and Consulting, a firm that instructs officers around the country in drug-bust procedures. “Without them, narcotics operations would practically cease to function.”

Every day, offenders are sent out to perform high-risk police operations with few legal protections. Some are juveniles, occasionally as young as fourteen or fifteen. Some operate through the haze of addiction; others, like Hoffman, are enrolled in state-mandated treatment programs that prohibit their association with illegal drugs of any kind. Many have been given false assurances by the police, used without regard for their safety, and treated as disposable pawns of the criminal-justice system.

In Vancouver, Washington, Jeremy McLean was roped into being a confidential informant after selling a friend eight methadone pills. Fourteen undercover stings later, Jeremy would become the murder victim of a heroin trafficker he’d helped set up:

Mitchell McLean has come to see his son’s death as the result of an equally cynical and utilitarian calculation. “The cops, they get federal funding by the number of arrests they make—to get the money, you need the numbers,” he explained, alluding to, among other things, asset-forfeiture laws that allow police departments to keep a hefty portion of cash and other resources seized during drug busts. “It’s a commercial enterprise,” he went on, citing a view shared by many legal scholars and policy critics. “That’s how they pay for their vans, for their prosecutors—they get money from the war on drugs. They put zero dent in the supply. They just focus on small-town, small-time arrests.” He continued, “I understand using C.I.s to get information on who is a mid-level dealer, or to go after the big guys. That’s the information that I, as a taxpayer, would love to see them do—cases that have some significance. I still remember the big busts from the eighties and nineties, where they’d nail a heroin kingpin.”

Read the whole thing.

“Monopoly of Force Does Not Always Explain Peace: Illicit Network Evolution Does”

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Nathan Jones writes in Small Wars Journal about the evolution of the Mexican drug war:

There has been a dominant narrative in the study of Mexican drug trafficking which argues that violence goes down when one dominant trafficking organization monopolizes a locale.  This has been used to explain the reductions in violence in Tijuana and now Ciudad Juarez.  There is just one problem with the explanation, it isn’t empirically valid.  In both cities the deeply entrenched local “cartels” continue to operate, though in a more low-profile fashion, while the Sinaloa cartel has entered both cities and has been proclaimed by government officials in the US and Mexico as dominant.  The dominance of the Sinaloa cartel has been credited with the relative drops in violence.  There is another explanation that better fits reality.

In violent conflicts with the state and rival drug traffickers, the most violent cells of larger networks (those that focus on kidnapping and extortion) are more likely to be killed or captured because they draw state and rival trafficker attention.  As they are wiped out, the remaining cells focus on trafficking, money laundering and maintaining a “low profile.”  Key to maintaining a low profile is reducing violence with other organizations to avoid state attention.  This requires some level of negotiation with rivals or a tacit “live and let live” policy.  While we have little direct evidence of these negotiations save for statements from arrested traffickers, we have the low levels of violence and the continued presence of multiple trafficking groups in shared territories as circumstantial evidence that the monopoly of violence explanation does not explain these relative peace periods.

Recent articles, including one in Proceso by Victor Clark, have demonstrated the continued presence and operation of the Arellano Felix Organization in Tijuana.  Clark points out that the AFO operates in a very different fashion following its internecine conflict with El Teo a violent lieutenant who splintered from the AFO in 2008.  Following his arrest and the arrest of his top cell leaders in early 2010, violence in the city has declined, particularly as measured by kidnap rates.  This is despite the fact that the Sinaloa cartel established an important presence in Tijuana by annexing cells from the AFO in the same period.  Many argued the Sinaloa cartel was dominant by 2010 and that the AFO was either “a shadow of its former self” or even that it was on the verge of collapse.  Yet its leadership was never captured (Fernando Sanchez Arellano AKA El Ingeniero) and cell leaders such as El Ruedas continued to be arrested, all of which stated that the AFO had regenerated and is far stronger than observers thought.    What has changed for the AFO has been the business model and procedures.  Former enforcer cell leaders have transitioned to low profile trafficking.  In the words of Clark they are now more “entrepreneurial.”

Solving for the equilibrium:

This process suggests that there may be multiple processes at play, which will create a less violent equilibrium in Mexican trafficking.  First, state institutional security capacity is increasing and is likely to continue its increase in Mexico with increased spending, democratic/rule of law norms, and training from the United States via the “new Merida Initiative” which now emphasizes capacity building over military equipment. Second, trafficking networks are experiencing changes in their internal composition.  Territorial and extortion based-cells are being removed by state and rival traffickers while trafficking cells survive.  Local state actors such as former Tijuana Police Chief Leyzaola (current chief of Juarez) are also targeting the most violent actors in these networks, as was the case with the El Teo faction in Tijuana.  These are not rational decisions made by monolithic actors, but structurally determined strategies from illicit networks whose capabilities, skills and predispositions change based on which members and cells in their illicit networks are arrested or killed.  Thus, the illicit network evolutionary process favors traffickers over extorters; which in turn allows for peaceful coexistence in cities like Tijuana.

 Read the whole thing.
-Eapen Thampy

DeAndre McCullough Dies in Baltimore from Heroin Overdose

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

(By Eric E. Sterling, Guest Blogger)

The New York Times reports on August 29, 2012 on the life and death of DeAndre McCullough in Baltimore on August 1, 2012 at age 35 of an apparent heroin overdose.

DeAndre’s youth had been chronicled in the non-fiction book and HBO mini-series, The Corner, A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (New York, Broadway Books, 1997), by David Simon and Edward Burns.  DeAndre’s parents, both Baltimore residents addicted to drugs are central figures in the book and miniseries. The book and mini-series were sort of a scholarly prelude by Simon and Burns to the HBO smash hit series, The Wire, about contemporary urban life, policing,urban politics, drug trafficking, drug use in Baltimore.

The Times reports that DeAndre, addicted to drugs as a teenager, was able to get treatment and begin a life of recovery, obtain a high school G.E.D. (graduate equivalency diploma), and attend community college. He had employment, and had roles in HBO’s The Corner and The Wire. But he had great success as a drug treatment counselor in Baltimore at Mountain Manor, a few miles west of the corners where he grew up. But after several years, he resumed his drug use, lost his job, and was in and out of treatment and in and out of various jobs for the past seven years.

Why does someone who seems to have overcome a childhood and life of risk factors succumb? Is it changed brain chemistry, the “lure” of the high of opiates, an inadequate, stunted self-love, the “environment of the neighborhood,” bad choice of friends, lack of education, lack of good jobs — some or all of the above? Or was it badly manufactured drugs, poor education about drug use, inadequate harm reduction, continued stigmatization of addicts and those in recovery? I don’t think The Times story tells us enough to answer, but no doubt there will be many who will insist that Mr. McCullough’s death supports one of their talking points.

Perhaps before International Drug Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, further details of Mr. McCullough’s life and death might be published that might be the honest basis for drawing some lessons from his tragic death.

BATF: The Next Front on the Federal Forfeiture War on Cash

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Over at the Americans for Forfeiture Reform blog, AFR policy analyst Scott Meiner reports:

Attorney General Eric Holder has granted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) authority, for a one-year trial period, to seize and administratively forfeit property allegedly involved in controlled substance offenses pursuant to United States Code Title 21 › Chapter 13 › Subchapter I › Part E › § 881.

21 U.S.C. § 881 is, among other things, often invoked to seize and forfeit bulk currency, where no drugs are found, on theories that the currency was furnished, or intended to be furnished, in exchange for a controlled substance.

AG Holder’s rulemaking announcement declared that such changes are exempt from the general notice and comment requirements because the department determined that the change does not affect individual rights and obligations.

AG Holder also declared that this rule change lacks sufficient federalism implications to warrant the preparation of a federalism summary impact statement.

The rule takes effect February 23, 2013, and is final:
Notice and comment rulemaking is not required for this final rule. Under the APA, “rules of agency organization, procedure or practice,”5 U.S.C. 553(b)(A), that do not “affect[] individual rights and obligations,”Morton v. Ruiz, 415 U.S. 199, 232 (1974), are exempt from the general notice and comment requirements of section 553 of title 5 of the United States Code.
-Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

The Dogs of Asset Forfeiture

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Southern Coast K9 Inc is a company that trains drug sniffing dogs:

We are extremely proud of the results our K-9 teams achieve—frequently in highly stressful situations.

Our drug sniffing dogs have seized many millions of dollars worth of cocaine; found marijuana hidden in the seams of convicts clothing and hundreds of pounds of narcotics deeply hidden in cargo trucks and containers.

Our dogs serve as military dogs both here in the US and overseas in combat zones like Iraq. You’ll also find them in the homes of ordinary folk, protecting their human family no matter what.

From freight stops to prison inspections, our dogs’ stories are proudly told in our picture gallery below.

K9 Makye and Corporal Mario JenkinsTestimonial: “We got 2lbs of BC bud and about 76lbs of miscellaneous pot and a little coke. The final tally on the cash was $29,301.00. This is a lot for a University. We had a great time until we had to log evidence.  Makye assisted in the search, it was great training for her. The distraction seemed endless. The apartment had two pit bulls that just left a few days before we got there so their scent and all their toys were everywhere.”
Corporal Mario Jenkins, University of Central Florida Police Department – In Memory of Corporal Jenkins

Call now for a dog that will deliver results.
(Toll free) 877-903-3647

 

Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

 

Local News Catches Illegal, Forfeiture-Driven Traffic Stops

Monday, August 27th, 2012

This story is a year-and-a-half old, but I missed it when it came out.

I’ve posted about Nashville’s News 5 before. They’ve been all over the forfeiture story. Can’t praise them enough for bucking the local news cliche and performing real, relevant acts of journalism.