Pubdate: Tue, 25 Feb 2003
Source: Sun Herald (MS)
Copyright: 2003, The Sun Herald
Pubdate: 25 Feb 2003
Source: Sun Herald (MS)
Author: Shannon McCAFFREY, Knight Ridder Newspapers


WASHINGTON - Federal authorities on Monday charged 55 people with 
trafficking drug paraphernalia in what is believed to be the largest-ever 
crackdown on dealers of marijuana bongs, cocaine pipes and other tools.

In coordinated raids across the country, authorities said they confiscated 
thousands of tons of drug paraphernalia worth tens of millions of dollars. 
They arrested distributors accused of supplying more than half the nation's 
supply of drug equipment.

Many of the distributors in the $1 billion-a-year industry openly peddled 
their products on the Internet, in catalogs and at retail stores, commonly 
known as head shops.

Some of the gear, like "sneaky" marijuana pipes tucked into Hi-liter 
markers and bongs adorned with smiley faces, were marketed to youngsters 
online where they could easily make anonymous purchases, authorities said.

The charges carry a maximum of three years in prison and fines of $250,000.

The probe began in Pittsburgh after authorities discovered that local shops 
being used by a drug dealer to buy products to cut and repackage cocaine 
and heroin were being supplied by large national companies using the Internet.

The coordinated busts on Monday were led by the Drug Enforcement 
Administration in conjunction with other federal agencies.

Some of the distributors ran sophisticated high-volume operations, 
operating out of huge warehouses with on-site glassblowing facilities that 
allowed them to create their own bongs and pipes, according to U.S. 
Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of the western district of Pennsylvania. One of 
the companies busted Monday pulled in annual sales of $50 million a year, 
she said.

Buchanan said the investigation put the nation's largest suppliers out of 

A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh, Pa., handed up 17 indictments against 
27 defendants as part of "Operation Pipe Dreams." Ten of those indictments 
were against national distributors.

"Operation Headhunter," run out of Des Moines, Iowa, brought down national 
distributors in Michigan, California and Texas with four indictments 
charging nine people.

The remaining 19 defendants were charged in other states.

Federal authorities were in the process Monday of obtaining court orders to 
shut down 11 Internet sites with names like Visitors to 
those sites will be redirected to a DEA website.

Ashcroft refused to say if those who attempt to access the sites would be 
traced or investigated.

He said the overall investigation is ongoing and that more arrests and 
website restraints are possible.

Acting DEA Administrator John Brown said there was no real difference 
between those selling drugs and those selling the products that make it 
possible to use them.

"They are as much a part of drug trafficking as silencers are a part of 
criminal homicide," Brown said.

Federal law makes it a crime to sell products intended mainly for the use 
of illegal drugs.
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