A Homeland Security agent was living large on stolen dope money, a New York state cop was slinging coke and weed, and more. Let's get to it:
In Niagara Falls, New York, a former Niagara Falls police officer was arrested last Tuesday on charges she sold cocaine to undercover cops. Stephanie Costanza, 28, her boyfriend, and another woman were all arrested on cocaine and marijuana sales charges. She had been on leave since an initial arrest last month, but has now resigned from the force.
In San Diego, a former US Homeland Security Investigations agent was indicted last Wednesday on charges he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from drug money couriers and tried to hide the money via real estate transactions in American and Croatian banks. Former agent Tyrone Cedric Duren, 46, worked on Homeland Security's Bulk Cash Smuggling Taskforce, which targeted Mexican drug trafficking organizations and participated in at least 20 major cash seizures, but is accused of conducting searches and seizures without reporting them. Duren and his wife made at least $1.2 million in cash deposits over a four-year period. He faces money laundering, bank fraud conspiracy, false statements, and structuring financial transaction charges. He's out on bail.
In Houston, a Jefferson County jail supervisor was convicted last Thursday of taking bribes from a jailed Mexican cartel leader. Donald Roy Kelly was found to have initiated contact with Gulf Cartel leader Francisco Saenz-Tamez, who was there pending trial on federal drug trafficking charges, offering him a cell phone in return for a cash payment. Kelly provided a cell phone, as well as fast food, to Saenz-Tamez. Kelly went down when prison authorities found the phone weeks later and traced it back to him. He was found guilty of providing a prison inmate with a prohibited object and bribery of a public official. He's looking at up to 15 years in federal prison.
In Lebanon, Ohio, a former Warren County jail guard was sentenced last Thursday to nine months in prison for taking money to smuggle drugs to inmates. Travis Caudill, 36, went down when he was caught bringing a package of marijuana wrapped in duct tape to work with him. He then confessed that he was taking bribes to do so. He pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony charge of conveying prohibited items into a detention facility.
A former Ohio sheriff goes to prison for stealing pills, a former New Mexico cop is in trouble for buying sex with meth, and more. Let's get to it:
In Las Cruces, New Mexico, a former Las Cruces police officer was arrested last Wednesday after being accused of trading drugs for sex. Alex Smith, 32, a seven-year veteran of the force, was originally suspended after being accused of giving methamphetamine to a woman while in his police uniform and wearing his badge, but he's now been charged with trafficking meth by distribution and conspiracy to commit trafficking. The woman described Smith as her drug "connect" and boasted that she had performed sexual favors for him in return for drugs. He met the woman in his official capacity when responding to a domestic violence report several years ago.
In Brownsville, Texas, a former Edcouch police officer pleaded guilty last Wednesday to working with Mexican drug traffickers. Vicente Salinas copped to one count of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. He admitted staging fake drug busts in a scheme to steal and re-sell the drugs. He's looking at up to 40 years in federal prison.
In Fremont, Ohio, the former Sandusky County sheriff was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison for stealing prescription drugs and misusing office funds. Kyle Overmyer also has to pay $25,000 in restitution. A special prosecutor accused him of stealing pills from drug disposal boxes and deceiving multiple doctors into giving him pain pills. He pleaded guilty last month to 13 felony counts of theft of dangerous drugs and theft in office.
With the backing of the president, Mexico's Senate has approved medical marijuana; Kentucky's attorney general identifies the opioid epidemic as the state's biggest problem, Nevada drug dogs trained to sniff out marijuana face an uncertain future after legalization, and more.
Do you want to play high school sports in Wisconsin? A GOP lawmaker wants you to have to pee in a cup first. (Wikimedia)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Kentucky AG Says Opioid Epidemic Should Be Legislature's Top Priority. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said Tuesday that the opioid epidemic -- not a failing pension program -- is the state's biggest problem and the Republican-controlled legislature should make that its top priority. "We have a very important pension problem that we have to tackle, but a pension hasn't killed anyone's father or mother or taken a child from a parent," Beshear said. "This drug epidemic is the single largest threat to the lives of our citizens and also to our economy itself."
Wisconsin Lawmaker Wants to Impose Drug Testing on High School Students Statewide. Whether to drug test students is a question traditionally left to local school boards, but state Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) is drafting a bill to impose drug testing on some students statewide. He said he will introduce a bill that will require private and public schools to have policies to randomly drug test students who participate in voluntary activities, such as sports or choir or the debate club. Only a handful of Wisconsin school districts currently have such policies.
After Pot Vote, Nevada Drug Dogs Face Uncertain Future. With legal marijuana looming in the state's near future, Nevada drug dogs trained to sniff marijuana could be out of a job. Drug dogs are trained to detect various substances and will alert on any of them, but after January 1, they could be alerting on a legal substance, and that means their usefulness to law enforcement is in question. They could be retrained (difficult and expensive) or replaced (expensive).
Mexico Senate Votes Overwhelmingly to Approve Medical Marijuana. The Mexican Senate voted 98-7 Tuesday to approve medical marijuana legislation. The move comes after President Enrique Pena Nieto earlier this year signaled his support. Some lawmakers said they were disappointed the bill didn't legalize marijuana outright.
Philippines President Admits Personally Killing People. Speaking Monday about his bloody war on drugs, which has left nearly 6,000 dead in six months, President Rodrigo Duterte admitted to personally killing people while mayor of Davao City, where he has long been accused of tolerating death squads. "In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police officers] that if I can do it, why can't you. And I'd go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill," he said.
When police in Charlotte, North Carolina, shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in September in an incident that began when they spotting him rolling a joint in his car, the city was shaken by angry protests. Part of it was that he was another black man gunned down by police; part of it was undoubtedly because video taken by Scott's wife as her husband was killed went viral.
Most drug war-related deaths don't get so much attention, but they happen with depressing regularity. The Drug War Chronicle has been tallying them since 2011, and throughout that period, drug war deaths have remained fairly constant, averaging about one a week throughout that period.
The good news is that this year it looks like we're not going to reach that one a week threshold. The bad news is we're still going to get close. With less than a month to go, the Chronicle's tally this year has reached 45.
Here are the seven people killed by police enforcing drug laws since the Scott killing. At least three of them were killed as they attempted to flee police in their vehicles, including one where a bystander video shows police opening fire after he posed no obvious immediate danger to police.
On September 27 in Phoenix, Arizona, a Phoenix police officer shot and wounded John Ethan Carpenter, 26, who died of his wounds a week later. Police were tailing Carpenter as part of a drug investigation and had arranged a drug deal with him. He pulled up to a convenience store parking lot next to an undercover cop who was part of the investigation, and other officers then blocked his vehicle in with a marked police cruiser. When officers approached on foot, Carpenter reportedly pulled a hand gun and pointed it at them. When they retreated, he put his vehicle in reverse, ramming the police cruiser, and the undercover narc then "feared for the safety of his fellow officers" and opened fire. Drugs were found in the vehicle. Carpentier had previously done prison time for aggravated assault and drug paraphernalia (!?).
On October 19, in Willoughby, Ohio, a Willoughby police officer shot and killed Frank Sandor, 38, as he attempted to speed away from two officers questioning him in the parking lot of a Lowe's Home Improvement store. Sandor was wanted on drugs and escape warrants and first gave officers false information when they stopped him, then put his vehicle in reverse, striking a police motorcycle parked behind him before driving off. A YouTube video posted shortly after the incident shows the motorcycle officer shooting three times at Sandor's vehicle as it fled -- after the officer was no longer in any immediate danger. That video showed the officer limping after he fired the shots. Sandor's vehicle rolled to a halt a few yards away. The Ohio Bureau of Investigation is conducting the investigation of the shooting.
On October 25, in Elkton, Maryland, state police attempting to serve a Delaware drugs and guns arrest warrant at a local motel shot and killed Brandon Jones and Chelsea Porter, both 25, when, instead of surrendering to the dozens of police surrounding the motel, they came out of their motel room with guns pointed at police. Jones came out first, refused demands to drop the weapon, and was shot. Then Porter did the same thing. The shooting will be investigated by Maryland State Police, as is protocol when any police action results in a death.
On November 3, in Salisbury, North Carolina, a member of the Salisbury Police's SWAT-style Special Response Team shot and killed Ferguson Laurent, 23, as the team executed a "no-knock" search warrant looking for drugs, guns, and stolen property. "One subject fired at least one shot at the officers," said an official statement from the department. "Officers returned fire and struck the subject who has since passed away at the hospital." The officer who shot Laurent was identified as K. Boehm. Boehm shot and killed another suspect in 2008; that killing was found to be justified. Word of the killing spread rapidly and a "tense" crowd gathered at the scene, leading Police Chief Jerry Stokes to warn that while people had a First Amendment right to protest, "if you start becoming violent and damaging property, then that is the problem." The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting.
On November 15, in Webster, Texas, members of the nearby Alvin Police Department Street Crimes Unit shot and killed Robert Daffern, 37, after locating the wanted drug felon at a motel. Police said they approached Daffern, but that he didn't comply with commands to surrender and instead brandished a pistol and aimed at one of the officers. The Alvin Police investigators then fired several rounds, leaving Daffern dead at the scene. Police found a second pistol in his pocket, and a "significant amount" of drugs and cash. The incident is being investigated by the Webster Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney's office and will be reviewed by a grand jury.
On November 28, in Hickory, North Carolina, a Catawba County sheriff's deputy with the narcotics division shot and killed Irecas Valentine, 41, during a "narcotics investigation." The sheriff's office said "an altercation occurred involving the unidentified suspect's vehicle and an undercover deputy's vehicle" and "shots were then fired by at least one deputy." Valentine died after being transported to a local hospital. The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the case.
Another Trump nominee raising eyebrows and concerns among drug reformers, Congress passes a health care omnibus bill that includes $1 billion for opioid treatment, Montana dispensaries are cleared to reopen, and more.
Trump's Department of Homeland Security pick, Gen. John Kelly (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Colorado Governor Aims to Rein In Home Pot Cultivation. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has told lawmakers he wants to reduce black market marijuana exports by imposing a 12-plant limit on grows at private homes, banning collective recreational grows, and imposing tighter restrictions on medical marijuana caregivers. It isn't going to happen without a fight, marijuana activists say.
Montana Judge Clears Dispensaries to Reopen. A district court judge in Helena has ruled that a wording error in last month's successful medical marijuana initiative should not keep sick patients from having access to the plant now. The initiative undid a 2011 law that largely undid the original 2004 initiative allowing medical marijuana, but late changes to the initiative resulted in new sections being added, which in turn resulted in a change in section numbering that unintentionally pushed back the date dispensaries could open. "The folks that are maybe the most in need are the least able to provide, to grow their own," the judge said in making his ruling. "I think speed is more important than niceties."
Trump Nominates Another Drug War Zealot to Head Department of Homeland Security. The Trump transition team has named General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly has said he believes marijuana is a gateway drug, that interdiction could be more efficient with increased funding, and that marijuana legalization sends a confusing message to Latin American leaders, among other things."This is looking really bad," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "First Sessions for Attorney General, then Price at HHS, and now yet another old-style drug war character for Homeland Security. It looks like Donald Trump is revving up to re-launch the failed drug war."
A bunch of Des Moines drug cases are now in doubt after a pair of cops are accused of planting drugs, a former New York cop gets sent away for selling "date rape" drugs, and more. Let's get to it:
In Des Moines, Iowa, two Des Moines police officers resigned Monday after officials accused them of planting evidence in a drug case last year. Senior Police Officers Joshua Judge, 30, and Tyson Teut, 30, left the force after superiors began investigating a complaint in a January 2015 case. But an internal investigation will review the hundreds of cases the pair worked since the both joined the department in August 2013. Stay tuned; criminal charges could be coming.
In St. Croix, the US Virgin Islands, an officer on the governor's security detail pleaded guilty last Thursday to using his law enforcement credentials to bypass TSA screening before he was later caught carrying about 40 pounds worth of cocaine onto a flight bound for Florida. Neal Chesterfield, 39, copped to possession with intent to distribute cocaine and faces an April sentencing date.
In New York City, a former Sleepy Hollow police officer was sentenced last Friday to eight years in prison for selling over a million dollars worth of an illegal analogue of GHB, widely described as a "date rape drug." Robert Smutek, 52, who had also served on a drug task force, also must forfeit $1.2 million in proceeds from the scheme.
An organic foods group says allowing kratom would be "dangerous," the Drug Policy Alliance comes out with a plan for heroin and prescription opioids, Iowa shuts down its asset forfeiture unit, and more.
The Natural Products Association says allowing kratom would be "dangerous." (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Virginia Marijuana Arrests Plummet. Marijuana arrests have dropped 14% in the state over the past two years, the largest decline this century, and they appear headed for further declines this year. Changes in prosecutorial priorities appear to be behind the fall, with some prosecutors saying they need to husband their resources for felony prosecutions.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Drug Policy Alliance Releases Public Health and Safety Plan to Address Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose. The Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading proponent of drug policy reform, is releasing a plan to address increasing rates of opioid use and overdose (now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States). The plan marks a radical departure from the punitive responses that characterize much of US drug policy and instead focuses on scientifically proven harm reduction and public health interventions that can improve treatment outcomes and reduce the negative consequences of opioid misuse, such as transmission of infectious diseases and overdose. The plan has 20 specific recommendations, including establishing safe injection sites, moving ahead with prescription heroin (heroin-assisted treatment), and embracing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to keep people out of the criminal justice system and bring them in contact with social services.
Natural Products Association Says Allowing Kratom Would Be "Dangerous." The largest trade group representing the organic and natural foods industry and dietary supplements makers has commented on the DEA's proposed ban on kratom, saying that "adding kratom to the US food supply could likely be dangerous and lead to serious unintended consequences." Kratom products have not met the strict standards for new items to be marketed to the public or undergone FDA approval, the group said. "Adding an untested and unregulated substance such as kratom to our food supply without the application of longstanding federal rules and guidelines would not only be illegal," said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, NPA's CEO and executive director. "It could likely be dangerous, leading to serious unintended consequences as our nation struggles with the crisis of opioid addiction."
Iowa Disbands State Asset Forfeiture Team, Returns $60,000 Taken From Travelers. Under increasing fire over asset forfeiture practices that saw a thousand seizures a year, the state Attorney General's Office announced Monday that the Department of Public Safety had disbanded its Interstate 80 drug interdiction and forfeiture team. The move came because of increased personnel demands and the need to focus on reducing traffic deaths, the office said, and had nothing to do with the recently announced settlement of a lawsuit brought by a pair of California gamblers who had $100,000 seized after they were stopped and a small amount of marijuana was found. That settlement resulted in the men getting most of their money back.
Justice Department Probing Possible Criminal Charges Over Atlanta DEA Informants. A DEA official told a congressional committee last week that the agency has referred "potential criminal charges" to the Justice Department over an Atlanta DEA supervisor who allegedly was in sexual relationships with two informants, one of whom was paid $212,000 for helping to bust four St. Louis drug traffickers. There are allegations of false documentation of payments to the snitch, who got $2,500 a month for two years, along with two "bonuses" of $55,000 and $80,750. The monthly payments apparently covered the rent for apartment near the DEA supervisor's home in the Atlanta metro area.
A Pennsylvania DARE officer didn't heed his own lessons, a Florida cop fell for a money-laundering come-on, and more. Let's get to it:
In Center Township, Pennsylvania, a Beaver County DARE officer was arrested November 10 for allegedly stealing drugs and cash from the evidence room for more than a year. Jeffrey Stone went down after he raised suspicions by appearing to be under the influence of drugs at work, and a state police investigation found that drugs and cash had been removed from evidence bags and replaced with filler. Drugs including heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine were missing, as well as cash. Stone had been the primary custodian of the evidence room for 16 years and had received an award as the department's DARE officer. He is charged with unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and obstructing the administration of law.
In Plainfield, Indiana, a Plainfield Correctional Facility guard was arrested last Monday after he admitted smuggling drugs into the prison. Officer Joshua Kirk went down after investigators found a gram of meth on him as he arrived at work. They later found bags of tobacco and synthetic cannabinoids in his vehicle, as well as 79 more grams of fake weed and another pound of loose tobacco. Kirk is charged with trafficking with an offender, dealing in synthetic marijuana, and dealing in methamphetamine, all felonies.
In Jacksonville, Florida, a former Jacksonville Sheriff's officer was found guilty last Tuesday of participating in a money laundering scheme for an undercover officer posing as a drug dealer. Michael Rounsville, 48, accepted $42,000 in cash after he agreed to launder $200,000. Rounsville then ran the names of FBI agents through police databases for the man he thought was a drug dealer. He was convicted by a federal jury of accessing a law enforcement database without authorization for financial gain and in furtherance of a money laundering scheme. He's looking at up to five years in prison.
A Border Patrol agent goes down for dirty-dealing, an NYPD cop gets nailed for peddling cocaine and ecstasy, an Indiana narcotics supervisor gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and more. Let's get to it:
In McAllen, Texas, a US Border Patrol agent was arrested last Monday after he admitted working with drug dealers to stage a seizure of fake cocaine so that the real drugs could be distributed. Agent Eduardo Bazan Jr., 48, admitted taking $8,000 from a drug ring that ripped off cocaine from other suppliers, diluted the drugs, and then ensured that police seized them. It's not clear what the exact charges he faces are.
In Buckingham, Virginia, two state prison guards were arrested last Thursday after they were filmed buying drugs that federal agents said were intended to be smuggled into the Buckingham Correctional Center. The bust was part of a larger gang racketeering bust that netted 20 arrests in Virginia and New York. The two guards, Shonda Jones and Jaymese Jones, face as yet unspecified federal charges.
In New York City, a former NYPD officer was convicted last Thursday of helping to run drugs throughout the Bronx and providing protection to drug gangs. Merlin Alston, 33, was part of a long-running conspiracy to traffic large amounts of cocaine and ecstasy in the Bronx. He was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and one count of possession of firearms in furtherance of the narcotics conspiracy. He's looking at a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence.
In Columbus, Indiana, a former Columbus police narcotics supervisor pleaded guilty last Thursday to stealing drugs from the department's evidence room under the guise of using them for training purposes. Jeremy Coomes, 39, checked out drug evidence from as many as 10 cases, and when it was returned, some of it was missing, some had been replaced with other substances, and evidence seals had been tampered with or altered. Coomes was originally hit with seven felonies, but copped to a single count of felony meth possession. He's looking at between three and 16 years in prison.
In Charleston, South Carolina, a former prison guard was sentenced last Wednesday to six months in prison for giving marijuana to a prisoner at the Estill Federal Correctional Institution. Anthony Jermaine Creech, 39, admitted delivering an ounce of pot to an inmate in exchange for money.
President Obama Says Federal Pot Prohibition in Question After Tuesday's Vote. Appearing on the Bill Maher Show Friday night, President Obama said federal marijuana prohibition will not "be tenable" if more states vote to legalize the weed on Tuesday. "The good news is is that after this referenda, to some degree it’s gonna call the question, because if in fact it passed in all these states, you now have about a fifth of the country that’s operating under one set of laws, and four-fifths in another," Obama said. "The Justice Department, DEA, FBI, for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others — they’re gonna guard against transporting these drugs across state lines, but you’ve got the entire Pacific corridor where this is legal — that is not gonna be tenable," he said.
Maine Legalizers Have Huge Cash Advantage. Supporters of the Question 1 marijuana legalization initiative have raised more than $2.4 million dollars, according to campaign finance reports, while opponents have raised only $201,000. Most of the pro-legalization money has come from the New Approach PAC, the instrument of the heirs of late Progressive Insurance founder and drug reform philanthropist Peter Lewis, while 99% of the anti-legalization money has come courtesy of Project SAM's Kevin Sabet, who now heads the newly formed non-profit Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy.
Las Vegas Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson Again Kicks in Against Nevada Pot Initiative. The Sands Corporation head honcho and prolific funder of anti-drug reform efforts has given more than $1.35 million to the campaign trying to defeat the Question 2 marijuana legalization initiative in recent weeks, according to campaign finance reports. That's on top of $2 million he gave opponents in September. In fact, Adelson is virtually a one-man opposition campaign, having provided 97.4% of all reported opposition campaign contributions. Proponents of Question 2 have raised only $1.2 million.
New Mexico Panel Votes to Allow Medical Marijuana for "Opiate Use Disorder." A state advisory board that makes recommendations to the Health Department on New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program voted 5-1 Friday in favor of adding "opiate use disorder" to the list of conditions that qualify. Now, it's up to incoming Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to accept or deny the recommendation. Such a move could add thousands of new patients to the state's rapidly expanding medical marijuana program.
Montana Supreme Court Affirms Right to Jury Trial in Civil Forfeiture Cases. In a ruling last week, the state high court upheld and strengthened a 2015 law that reformed asset forfeiture procedures. The ruling came in the case of a man whose land was seized after police found 300 marijuana plants on it. The man was convicted of federal drug charges, but not prosecuted by the state. Even though he faced no state charges, the state seized his land. He requested a jury trial, but was denied in lower court, and a judge turned the property over to the state. But the Supreme Court said the 2015 law supplanted older law on which the trial judge based his decision.
Even As Arrests Drop, California Racial Disparities Persist. A new report from the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris finds that arrest rates for all racial groups have dropped in the past decade, but blacks were still much more likely than whites to be arrested on felony charges. When it comes to drugs, black men were six times as likely as whites to be arrested, and black women were nearly three times as likely to be arrested as whites. Latinos, on the other hand, were arrested for drugs at roughly the same rate as whites.