Drug Busts Reflect Huge Disparity in Effectiveness of Enforcement Efforts
By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Whenever a law enforcement agency makes a major drug bust, one of the first things the department will do is issue a press release or hold a press conference to announce the size of the seizure, the dollar value of drugs and other items seized, and the number of people arrested. To the general public, the numbers at face value may seem significant, but in reality won’t do anything to upset the drug trade on the street. Ironically, other types of drug-related busts that are significant often don’t make it into the news cycle, despite the fact they have a bigger impact on the community.
Massive Drug Trafficking Operations
Two federal indictments were unsealed on August 3-4, charging 36 South Georgia, North Florida, and California residents with conspiring to traffic large amounts of methamphetamine, cocaine and other drugs. According to News4JAX, the indictments followed more than a year of undercover investigation by the FBI, the Waycross Police Department, and the Ware County Sheriff’s Office. The seizures during that time included 44 guns, 10 kilograms of cocaine ($1.03 million street value), four kilograms of methamphetamine ($120,000 street value), several ounces of heroin ($28,000 street value), five pounds of marijuana ($25,000 street value), and $130,000 in cash. Most of those indicted were arrested, and prosecutors said many of the defendants face up to life in a federal prison if convicted.
Unfortunately, the reality of such busts tends to be very different as legal proceedings commence. These collective seizures were conducted over the course of a year, whereas these numbers often equate to a single day’s work at one port of entry along the southwest border. While prosecutors may say several of the defendants could face up to life in federal prison, it’s likely that none will even come close. Defendants involved in drug cases usually plead out and offer intelligence on other drug dealers in exchange for leniency in sentencing.
Pivoting to the West Coast, 12 people were arrested August 3 in southern California and are accused of being involved in a distribution ring that trafficked at least 2 million narcotic pills to the black market. Per the Los Angeles Times, the scheme involved seven sham medical clinics that were issuing fraudulent prescriptions to obtain large quantities of prescription drugs — including oxycodone, hydrocodone, amphetamine, and alprazolam — to be sold on the streets, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office. The series of charges included suspicion of distributing oxycodone, suspicion of possessing narcotics with intent to distribute and suspicion of acquiring a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception and subterfuge.
These kinds of clinics—also known as “pill mills”—are at the very center of the nation’s current opiate crisis. More people die every year from overdosing on prescription pills than all types of illegal drugs combined. Many of the suspects involved in this case were writing fraudulent prescriptions using the name of deceased doctors and even a criminal defense attorney willing to lie to law enforcement officers. Encino resident Minas Matosyan was the alleged mastermind behind the distribution ring, and is accused of finding doctors who were willing to have their names used when making the bogus prescriptions in exchange for kickbacks. According to the Department of Justice, if convicted of the nine counts in which he is charged, Matosyan would face a statutory maximum sentence of 165 years in prison.
Both of these busts are the result of long-term investigations involving several different agencies across multiple jurisdictions. But the nature of the drug activity and the way the arrests and seizures tend to be perceived are very different. Taking 36 alleged drug traffickers off the streets, along with guns and varying amounts of illegal drugs, causes many to breathe a sigh of relief but ultimately does nothing to stop—or even slow down—the illegal drug trade. The pill mill busts, however, tend to be more low key when they happen. They involve dirty doctors rather than violent (and often foreign-born) drug traffickers, and the drug itself is already being legally used by a sizeable portion of the American population. This being said, shutting down six pill mills tends to have a more tangible impact on communities than an illegal drug operation, despite the latter sounding much more dramatic on paper.