Pubdate: Sat, 26 May 2001
Source: Belleville News-Democrat (IL)
Copyright: 2001 Belleville News-Democrat
Author: Brian Brueggemann


FedEx Hub Search Produces Results

Collinsville - Police who've been searching through packages at a FedEx hub 
in Collinsville have found some major drug shipments lately, including a 
stash of cocaine and four 5-gallon buckets full of marijuana. But they've 
also opened a package to find only drapes and a dress.

Collinsville Police, known for their intensive efforts to catch drug 
traffickers on the local interstate, are now looking for suspicious 
packages passing through the FedEx hub in Collinsville. The hub is in an 
industrial park near Illinois 157 and Interstate 70.

In recent weeks, judges have issued eight search warrants that allowed 
Collinsville Police to open packages at the hub and look for drugs.

Police Chief Gerrit Gillespie declined to discuss specifics of the 
operation, but he said it's been successful. All of the searches have 
resulted in the discovery of drugs, except for the one involving the drapes 
and dress and one in which an undisclosed amount of cash was found.

Gillespie said an officer goes to the FedEx building only periodically, for 
less than two hours at a time. The search warrants indicate that in seven 
of the eight cases, Officer Terry Wasser discovered suspicious packages 
while stationed at the hub on seven different dates, beginning April 11. In 
the eighth case, a FedEx employee discovered a suspicious package and 
called police.

Madison County Public Defender John Rekowski, who has been a critic of 
Collinsville Police tactics, said the operation sounds like a waste of 
police resources.

"We're in a situation where we have a town where we could use officers on 
the street. They always say they're understaffed, and now they have 
somebody stationed at a FedEx office," he said. Rekowski also criticized FedEx.

"If that's FedEx's policy, to let the police search packages and read 
addresses and stuff, I think I'll ship UPS," he said. Affidavits in the 
search warrants offer a glimpse into how the operation works. A package can 
become suspicious if it's heavily taped, if it's shipped from a drug-source 
state such as Texas or California, if the shipper's address is bogus, or if 
the shipping costs are high in relation to the value of the items 
supposedly being shipped. Once a package is determined to be suspicious, a 
drug-sniffing dog is brought in to see whether it will make an alert on the 

In the case of the drapes and dress, Collinsville resident Jeff Thurman 
shipped the package to his mother-in-law, Denice LaSuite, in Saskatchewan, 

In an affidavit requesting the search warrant, police stated that the 
package was heavily taped, was being shipped from a market area for drugs 
to a source area for drugs, and that the shipper paid $48.36 to have the 
package sent overnight even though the total value claimed for the items 
was only $110. A drug-sniffing dog then made a positive alert on the package.

LaSuite said she's not offended that police opened her package.

"Not at all," she said. "How are you supposed to prevent people from 
shipping illegal things?" LaSuite said the dog possibly alerted on the 
drapes and dress because they were packaged in a Pop-Tarts box. "That's 
probably what it smelled -- the food," she said.

Carla Richards, a FedEx spokesman, said it's not uncommon for FedEx -- or 
its competitors -- to cooperate in police investigations.

"I don't think I can make a blanket statement as to whether this is common 
or not. We don't go into great detail about our security work," Richards 
said. "We certainly cooperate with authorities and we work very closely 
with them -- we see it as one of our duties. As far as the privacy issue, I 
would refer you back to the police."

The drugs amounts found in the searches are: 5 pounds of marijuana, 9 grams 
of marijuana, 5 pounds of marijuana, 10 pounds of marijuana, 62 pounds of 
marijuana in four 5-gallon buckets, 275 grams of cocaine. Prosecutors asked 
that other details of the seizures not be disclosed because most of the 
cases remain under investigation.
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