Pubdate: Sun, 10 Mar 2002
Source: Blade, The (OH)
Copyright: 2002 The Blade
Author: Christina Hall


Toledo Major Crossroads; Hiding Spots Imaginative

Those crazy drug dealers. They'll hide their goods anywhere to avoid 
detection by law enforcement.

Among the more imaginative hiding spots related by authorities in northwest 
Ohio and southeast Michigan: Inside the gas tank or a hidden compartment 
within a vehicle and inside a horse trailer - with the horse still inside.

And then there was the marijuana stuffed inside the shipment of hot peppers.

But area law enforcement agencies are the ones turning up the heat. 
Authorities report that area drug seizures have skyrocketed over the last 
couple of years.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Capt. Don Kenney of the Toledo police 
special enforcement bureau. "Yeah, we're getting more productive, but that 
means there's more out there too."

Vehicle stops have jumped since Sept. 11, when drug traffickers were forced 
to forgo airplanes and trucks primary means of transport and turn to 
private vehicles.

The Ohio Highway Patrol has seized about $2.2 million worth of drugs - from 
marijuana to "magic" mushrooms - and $125,000 in drug money on the Ohio 
Turnpike in western Lucas County since Dec. 20.

By comparison, the patrol confiscated a total of $2.5 million worth of 
drugs statewide during 1999. Seizures across Ohio exceeded $47 million last 
year and are at nearly $10 million this year.

Lt. Gary Lewis cited several reasons for the patrol's success, including 
having all troopers trained in drug interdiction.

Officers with the Toledo police vice-narcotics unit and the Toledo-Metro 
Drug Task Force recovered drugs worth $2.1 million in Toledo in 1999. 
Seizures rose last year to $10.3 million and total $387,000 so far.

Toledo's location near the crossroads of two of the nation's busiest 
interstate highways - I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike (I-80/I-90) - make it a 
major crossroads for drug shipments. Many drugs come into Toledo from 
Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Texas. Other suppliers are based in Canada 
and Mexico, authorities said. In turn, Toledo dealers feed outlying counties.

"In Toledo, kilos [of drugs] are not uncommon," said Erie County Sheriff's 
Detective Greg Majoy, a member of the Erie County Drug Task Force. "Down 
here, a kilo is a major deal."

Last year, the Erie County task force grabbed more than $468,000 worth of 
drugs, a substantial increase over the $152,000 taken in 1999.

The increased difficulty in transporting drugs after Sept. 11 has led 
suppliers to increase their prices throughout the region, authorities said.

"The quality didn't go down, but the prices went up," said Tiffin Police 
Detective Charles Boyer, a member of the Seneca County Drug Task 
Force-METRICH Enforcement Unit, which covers 10 counties, including Seneca, 
Hancock, and Huron.

Authorities in Ohio and Michigan said a kilo of cocaine, which is about 2.2 
pounds, is currently selling for an average $19,000 to $26,000 on the 
street. The kilo, after it's broken down into smaller amounts, could reap 
about $220,000 when sold on the street.

Determining the total value of drug seizures in the region is difficult 
because the different law enforcement agencies use different methods to set 
their value. Some place a dollar value on the drugs based on what they paid 
during drug buys; others calculate what those drugs could be sold for on 
the street.

Michigan State Police Lt. Steve Shook, who oversees the Office of Monroe 
Narcotics Investigations (OMNI) for Lenawee and Hillsdale counties, said 
his numbers are based on what their unit pays for drugs. His officers 
netted about $1.6 million worth of narcotics in 2000 and about $2.3 million 
worth last year. This year, authorities have recovered drugs worth more 
than $1 million.

Seizures may be going up because authorities are targeting organizations or 
high-level dealers, the lieutenant said.

"Years ago, if we got 10 ounces of cocaine in the Lenawee County area, that 
was quite a bit. Recently we've gotten a quarter to a half-kilo off 
people," he said. A kilo is about 35 ounces.

Michigan State Police Lt. Luke Davis, in OMNI's Monroe County office, said 
his officers seized $975,000 worth of narcotics last year, an increase of 
$155,000 from 1999. Seizures so far in 2002 won't be available until the 
end of the month.

He and others attribute some of the increase to the variety of drugs 
available. Marijuana, powder cocaine, and crack cocaine are the primary 
drugs of choice in the region. Other drugs, such as Ecstasy and 
prescription drugs like Oxycontin, are rapidly gaining in popularity.

"It seems like you can walk around the corner and buy drugs," Lieutenant 
Davis said, adding that there are more street dealers, including 
middle-school and high-school-age children.

Drug abuse among Lucas County juveniles is down, but more of them were 
charged with possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia last year than in 
1999, said Deacon Dzierzawski, executive director of The Community 
Partnership, a nonprofit coalition dedicated to substance abuse prevention 
and intervention.

Jay Salvage, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services 
Board of Lucas County, said the board's programs for adults and juveniles 
are full, and the waiting lists are two to four weeks long. Referrals have 
increased too, he said.

Authorities said undercover investigations, searches, traffic stops, 
confidential informants, and crime or drug hotlines help in finding drugs, 
which are generally more prevalent in cities or towns.

"Sometimes it's just plain luck," said Mark Murtha, resident agent in 
charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency office in Toledo, which 
investigates cases in 21 northwest Ohio counties, and Hillsdale, Lenawee, 
and Monroe counties in Michigan.

He said the DEA usually doesn't put dollar values on drugs because they 
often aren't 100 percent pure. Instead they track drugs by weight.

The local DEA recovered about 1,795 pounds of cocaine, heroin, and 
marijuana in fiscal 1999. There was a decline in fiscal 2000, but there has 
been a rebound so far in fiscal 2001, with about 691 pounds seized to date, 
Mr. Murtha said.

Methamphetamine busts also are rising. In fiscal year 1999, about 450 grams 
of the stimulant were recovered. This fiscal year, about 667 grams have 
been seized.

The Multi-Area Narcotics Task Force - which covers Defiance, Fulton, Henry, 
Paulding, and Putnam counties and the city of Bryan in Williams County - 
confiscated more meth last year than in prior years. The total rose from 
0.5 grams in 1999 to 33 grams in 2001. Mr. Murtha said more canine units 
and better communications between agencies have helped increase drug 
seizures. The public also plays a big role.

"If the public doesn't give us information, we lose before we start," he said.

Dealers are getting smarter, using more leased or rented cars because they 
know personal vehicles can be confiscated under drug laws. Because 
authorities are raiding more residences, the dealers keep fewer drugs in 
one place.

"They'll come back five or six times to [re-supply]" a drug house, Lima 
Police investigator Jeff Kinkle said. "If they go back to the house and 
there's a raid, they've only lost 15 to 20 rocks and they still have their 

The Lima-Allen County Narcotics Task Force recovered $850,000 worth of 
drugs last year versus $612,000 worth in 2000.

Tiffin Detective Boyer said he expects the number of drug seizures and 
arrests to continue to increase, especially with the soft economy and some 
people turning to drug sales to make money.

Last year, the Seneca unit recovered more than $329,000 worth of drugs, 
mostly marijuana plants. That total was up from 2000 but down more than 
$143,000 from 1999, when most of the seizures were pot plants. Detective 
Boyer said enforcement in the cities has pushed narcotics to rural areas, 
where authorities may have a tougher time keeping up with the flow because 
of manpower issues.

Despite this, Seneca County Sheriff Tom Steyer said everyone must continue 
to be vigilant in their drug enforcement efforts. "If we don't continue to 
be aggressive, it'll get worse," he said. "If we don't continue to work, 
the dealers will start coming back."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth