Pubdate: Sun, 10 Mar 2002
Source: Times and Democrat, The (SC)
Copyright: 2002, The Times and Democrat
Author: Stephanie Pietrowski, T&D St. George Correspondent
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


I-26/I-95 Stretch Yields More Than $2 Million

ST. GEORGE -- More than $2 million in drug money was seized last year by 
law enforcement agencies along the small stretch of Interstate 95 in 
Dorchester County and the Charleston portion of Interstate 26. The stretch 
of interstate is such a pipeline of drug activity between New York and 
Florida that the Dorchester County Sheriff's Department teamed up with 
officers from Charleston County and the Drug Enforcement Agency to form the 
Interstate Criminal Enforcement team, known as ICE, in 1998 to focus on 
interstate crime.

Besides disrupting drug dealers, the ICE team has located missing persons, 
runaways, stolen cars, and bank robbers on the lam from Georgia. The team 
also discovered a large credit card forgery ring.

"The ICE team has been a very successful venture for us," Maj. Tim 
Stephenson of the Dorchester County Sheriff's Department said. "We get 
officers from Charleston County that are the cream of the crop, very 
professional and aggressive in enforcement. The team has become a valuable 
tool for both departments."

The ICE team stops motorists for various offensives, but it is always 
watching for nervous behavior, stories that don't add up and other red 
flags that initiate a closer look at the vehicle. Cash found in hidden 
compartments, boxed with drugs or large amounts of unexplained cash is 
likely to be confiscated. The DEA steps in for the investigation and court 
proceedings and gets 25 percent of the money for its efforts. Charleston 
County and Dorchester County law enforcement split the remainder, with 
Dorchester's share for last year more than $800,000.

Stephenson said the money is used by his department for advanced officer 
training and equipment such as radars and video cameras to help catch even 
more drug dealers.

"This money keeps us from going to taxpayers to fund these operations, and 
it helps keep criminals and narcotics off the street," he said.

After 9/11, all law enforcement agencies have been on a heightened alert. 
Stephenson said if there are terrorists traveling around the country, "... 
there's a strong likelihood that they'll be on the interstate. I-26 comes 
out of the fourth largest port in the country and is a major source of 
criminals and illegal activity in the Lowcountry, and I-95 is a major drug 
corridor along the East Coast. We want to disrupt as much criminal activity 
as we can, and the ICE team is a tremendous asset in the overall operation 
of our department. It's good for the county, good for the taxpayer and good 
for us. It's good for everybody except the criminals."
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