The FBI and the Montgomery County Police recently announced the break up of a large-scale drug ring operating out of a residential area near Rockville. Monday during the early morning hours, as many as 100 state, local and federal law enforcement officers raided numerous townhomes in the Bel Pre development, as well as a business in Prince George's County. The raids yielded a narcotics, multiple firearms, and over $70,000 in cash. All told 18 people were arrested, and now the defendants face felony drug charges in federal court. All but one of the defendants resides in Maryland, with the non-resident being from Pennsylvania. The defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, and could face other charges based on the evidence that was seized.
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It almost seems like a crime in and of itself. A police officer arrests a person for suspicion of committing a drug offense. Then a few hours (hopefully not longer) later upon being released he or she finds out that the police have kept some of their property. Property that is entirely legal on its own. Typically it's something small like a few bucks or a cell phone. But in some cases it could be thousands of dollars, a car, boat, or even a house. Time and time again the courts have upheld law enforcement's right to confiscate a suspect's property. It is widely understood, if not accepted, that a cop can take a person's otherwise legal property if that officer believes it will be evidence in a criminal prosecution. Unfortunately this is hardly the only justification an officer needs to take a citizen's stuff. For decades the law of civil forfeiture has driven defendant's, their families, and criminal defense lawyers crazy. In a nutshell forfeiture gives police the right to confiscate property they believe is being used to further criminal activity. The definition is vague and general, and the standard of proof is low. Forfeiture is easily abused by law enforcement, and when it is, legally thievery is the result.
Over the last few decades mail became one of the preferred methods of transporting marijuana across state lines. The carrier was irrelevant, as dealers and smokers would typically use FedEx, UPS, and the postal service to transport their stash across the country. Law enforcement eventually caught on, and began targeting packages at sorting facilities of all the major mail carriers. The targeted packages usually met a certain criteria; they were often from states such as California, Oregon, and Colorado, where marijuana was plentiful and relatively cheap. The packages also fit size and weight criteria, and had common markings and similar types of intended addresses. Upon identifying suspicious packages, law enforcement would order a K9 sniff. If law enforcement officers confirmed their suspicions, they would react in a variety of different ways depending on the agency, suspect, and the amount of pot at issue.
Just months ago United State's Attorney's Office praised the work of law enforcement in ending a complex Washington D.C. heroin and cocaine trafficking ring. The investigation and subsequent prosecution led to 14 felony convictions, with most of the defendants ending up with prison sentences. But as of this week, only one defendant remains jailed, and the other 13 have been released from prison. Last week a federal judge threw their cases out upon recommendation by the very prosecutors who worked diligently to secure these convictions less than a year ago. The exact reasons for this dramatic sequence of events is unknown, but we do know that at least one corrupt FBI agent participated in the investigation. This particular agent, a 33-year old named Matthew Lowry, was found slumped over in his car with evidence bags containing heroin and firearms seized from the investigation. While this incident alone could create enough suspicion of wrongdoing to warrant new trials in the related cases, it's more likely that the prosecutors became aware of far greater corruption. Corruption that prompted immediate and unfettered action.
Law enforcement officers make dozens of drug distribution busts each day in Maryland. State and local police handle most, as only a select few of these busts are carried out by federal law enforcement. Federal agencies such as the DEA could investigate and prosecute any would be drug offender under federal law, but they often defer to state level cops unless the case is large and involves multiple states. Even when these busts are juicy enough for the feds, the media rarely picks up on them, and most go unnoticed by the public. Therefore when the United States Attorney's Office issues a press release about a drug bust that is picked up by almost every local news agency, you know the facts must be particularly scandalous. This past week's Baltimore drug bust definitely fit the bill, as assistant US attorney Rosenstein announced indictments in a multi-state cocaine trafficking operation, which involved tons of drugs, millions of dollars, fancy cars, and money laundering. The investigation had everything the media could ask for in a story, and the bulk of the alleged criminal activity occurred right here in Baltimore.
While Baltimore City holds the dubious honor of being the heroin capital of the state, it is not the only city in Maryland struggling with this highly addictive and increasingly popular drug. The Blog posted and article more than a year ago about the dramatic increase in heroin use in suburbs, and the trend has continued in 2014. Anne Arundel County is one area that has been hit especially hard so far this year. County Police have reported 172 heroin overdoses since January 1st, with 22 of these being fatal. 28 of these overdoses occurred within the city limits of Annapolis, with 5 being reported on one day in April. City and county police are aware of the problem, and have taken affirmative steps to wage war on the drug. County police officers now carry the anti-overdose drug, Narcan, in order to prevent heroin overdoses from becoming fatal, and Annapolis officers will soon follow suit. But law enforcement's broader goal is not simply to prevent deadly heroin overdoses; it is to eradicate the drug entirely.
This week the state senate for a second time voted to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. The bill included a few modifications, which the house inserted over the weekend in order to satisfy enough delegates. Among the modifications is a provision that escalates the fine from $100 to $250 and then to $500 for a second and third offense respectively. In addition anyone who is charged with a third or subsequent offense will be summoned to appear for court, and if convicted may be ordered to complete a drug evaluation and follow up treatment. Offenders under the age of 21 who are charged with civil pot possession will also be summoned to appear in court. Simple pot possession for anyone under 18 is still a criminal offense that would be handled in the juvenile system. There is also a new provision that states all the fines collected by the District Court for these citations will go directly to the state health department, and can only be used for drug education programs. Governor O'Malley has already said that he'll sign the bill into law when it crosses his desk, so decriminalization is certain to be law in Maryland within the next few months. However it's not so certain just how the law will be implemented, and how efficiently the court system will be able to handle these new civil marijuana citations.
In a recent press release the Office of the National Drug Control Policy announced the expansion of a program designed to promote collaboration between federal state and local law enforcement. The White House oversees the Office, whose mission is to combat drug trafficking and production in areas that have been identified as hot spots throughout the country. These hot spots have been labeled as high intensity drug trafficking areas or HIDTA, and have been areas of law enforcement focus since Congress created the program back in 1988. As of November 14th of this year the White House has officially added two Maryland counties to the HIDTA list. Frederick County and Cecil County will now receive the same support as the other 28 HIDTA areas in 46 states throughout the country. The support will allow Frederick and Cecil to receive federal resources including manpower, money, and intelligence. As much as $660,000 has already been earmarked for the newly designated areas, and local law enforcement in these counties should begin to see the influx of resources over the next few months.
Baltimore County Police and the State's Attorney recently reported that a Towson based lawyer has been indicted on two drug charges. The indictment, which was unsealed last week, charges the criminal defense lawyer with two controlled dangerous substance violations including possession with intent to distribute and simple possession. The type of drug at the root of these charges is the prescription painkiller Oxycodone. Oxycodone is a commonly abused narcotic that can be swallowed, snorted, or melted down to liquid form and injected. The indictment alleges that the defense attorney conspired with her 20-year old son, her legal assistant, and six other co-defendants to distribute drugs throughout the area, but county police did not release any specific details about the scale of the operation. Police did however release information hinting that more charges may be on the way.
The DEA and the United States Attorney's Office recently announced the infiltration of a large international drug trafficking ring. The announcement took place in upstate New York where 8 suspected drug dealers were arrested for their involvement in the illegal operation. Authorities described the operation as an international conspiracy to import and distribute significant amounts of synthetic MDMA, also known as molly or ecstasy, throughout the country. The drug was allegedly manufactured in laboratories in China and smuggled to the U.S. for distribution in as many as 20 different states, including Maryland. The investigation began back in June of 2012 when federal authorities were tipped off to the supplier of the chemical compounds used to make ecstasy pills. The supplier would take orders for the chemical compounds via internet, and mailed the drugs to the states. Upon learning about the scheme, federal agents sought and received a court order authorizing the interception of emails from the Chinese supplier to possible suspects in the U.S. Law enforcement generated as many as 450 leads during the 30-day interception period allowed under the court order. These leads produced over 50 arrests nationwide and here in Maryland. In addition to the arrests, feds also seized over 70 kilograms of Methylone, a substance with a highly similar chemical compound to MDMA. This substance is often used to make ecstasy pills or is sold in powder form as molly. DEA agents also seized several kilograms of cocaine, meth, and actual MDMA. Cash, firearms, and cars were also confiscated during the execution of arrest and search warrants.
A joint press release with the Baltimore police and State's Attorney was called to announce the indictments of 9 men and women in a West Baltimore drug conspiracy. The area, which includes several blocks of Ruxton Avenue is one of the most violent in the city, and the state for that matter, as over 60 incidents of violent crime have been reported there in the past 3 years. Police attribute much of the violence to an organized drug ring that according to the department has held the neighborhood hostage. In an effort to end this violence, cops and the state's attorney initiated a five-week investigation focused on bringing the alleged drug dealers to justice. All but four of the nine suspects have been arrested, and their names were announced at the press conference. The other four have yet to be arrested, and as a result their indictments are still under seal.
The 2013 NFL season is officially underway, and week one of America's most popular sport is now in the books. Over one million people attended an NFL game in week one, and tens of millions more watched on television. The sport has never been more popular, and with the concussion lawsuit being resolved, the sport has never been in a better financial position. But the stain of a tumultuous offseason remains; as over thirty active players were arrested from the end of the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl win until the start of this season. Players from 19 different teams were either booked on criminal charges or taken into custody on outstanding bench or arrest warrants. The charges ranged in severity from simple possession of drugs all the way up to murder. Despite the league's growth in popularity and prosperity, player arrests are an issue that the commissioner's office will continue to battle in the coming years.
A recent report released by the State Department of Health has brought disturbing news regarding drug use in Maryland. According to the department, drug overdoses increased a considerable 15 percent from 2011 to 2012. The likely culprit for the increase in drug fatalities is the popularity and resulting pervasiveness of heroin in all areas of the state, from downtown Baltimore to the suburbs. We have blogged and posted web pages about the comeback of heroin, and these statistics simply offer more proof that the drug is enjoying a second coming, albeit a deadly one. In 2011 the state reported 245 heroin related deaths, but last year this number ballooned to 378, while the total alcohol and drug related deaths rose from 663 to 761 from 2011 to 2012. Prince George's County and Baltimore City were responsible for the jump, as most other areas of the state reported a similar number of drug fatalities in the last two years.
Law enforcement has reported that six Pennsylvania residents were recently arrested for various drug crimes in Ocean City. To call the out of state residents tourists may be a bit generous, because it seems from the police reports that the six young men and women may have been on the Eastern Shore for business purposes, as in selling the products they were arrested with. The arrest began as most drug arrests do, with a traffic stop for a seemingly harmless infraction. Upon approaching the car, the Ocean City Police officers allegedly observed the occupants acting nervous and suspicious. Thereupon, the cops ordered the occupants out of the vehicle and conducted a search. It is unclear whether the officers obtained permission to search, whether they lied about obtaining permission to search, or whether their observations gave them probable cause to detain and search. What is clear is that the driver and five passengers were all arrested for possession of marijuana and possession of LSD. Three of the occupants were charged with felony possession with intent to deliver, and one was charged with possession of a concealed dangerous weapon, a butterfly knife found on her person. The driver was also issued traffic citations including failure to wear a seatbelt, which undoubtedly was the initial cause of the traffic citation. Four of the occupants were released at the police station, and the other two were taken the Worcester County jail and released after posting a $2,500 bail.
Police in Calvert County have announced an arrest in a three month long drug dealing investigation, which concluded last week. The suspect, a 28 year old man hailing from Scotland, Maryland, was arrested on three controlled substance violations including misdemeanor heroin possession, felony possession with intent to distribute, and CDS possession of a large amount. The man was released a few days after being taken into custody on a $75,000 bail. His case is now set for a preliminary hearing in Calvert County District Court on July 12th, but the case will undoubtedly be sent to Circuit Court for disposition.
County police began investigating the man back in March, and used a variety of sources during the course of the investigation. Perhaps the biggest break in the case came when state troopers arrested a different man on a drug violation, and then obtained a search warrant for his phone. Police found numerous text messages between the two men, which discussed potential sales and other drug information. Confidential informants were also used by police to gather information about the 28-year-old man, who was widely believed to have been one of Southern Maryland's largest heroin dealers. The informants also allegedly told police that the man is known for carrying a firearm to and from trips to his own supplier. This information led police to begin surveillance on the alleged dealer, which was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Unit of the Calvert Police. On the day of the arrest, the DEU followed the man has he allegedly made numerous stops at houses of suspected heroin buyers, and also observed the man engage in a hand to hand transaction with two individuals in an SUV. Calvert County Police and Sheriffs then conducted a traffic stop on the man where they located approximately 100 grams of heroin in the engine compartment of the vehicle, and numerous bundles of cash.