Pubdate: Fri, 22 Jan 2010
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2010 Athens Newspapers Inc
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Author: Joe Johnson


When a shipment of drugs absolutely, positively has to be there on
time, traffickers sometimes turn to commercial shipping companies,
according to law enforcement officials.

"Guys who are doing this are not stupid, and there's a reason why they
use these package distribution services," said Athens-Clarke police
Lt. Mike Hunsinger, who supervises the Northeast Georgia Regional Drug
Task Force.

"They can track a shipment and know when it arrives - it's like having
a trusted courier without having to pay the big bucks," he said.

Private companies provide online tracking services that allow both the
sender and recipient to monitor a package's progress from pickup to
delivery, and all points between.

But that level of customer service may thwart authorities who don't
want suspects to be tipped off before officers can make arrests,
police said.

Given the time, police will plan a so-called "controlled" delivery -
dressing an undercover officer as a delivery man in order to bust the
person waiting on the package, police said.

Two years ago, members of the drug task force delivered more than 40
pounds of intercepted pot that were addressed to vacant homes on
Sunset Drive, and arrested three suspected traffickers.

But earlier this month, workers at an Athens FedEx shipping center
opened a suspicious package bound for an address in Auburn and found
it contained five pounds of marijuana.

Though company officials notified authorities and turned over the
marijuana, officers lost the element of surprise and couldn't arrest

"FedEx already put on the tracking report that it had been turned over
to police, so if the suspects were tracking the package on the
Internet, they would have known we had (the package) prior to (our)
going to the residence," Barrow County sheriff's Investigator Matt
Guthas said. "If we were to send an undercover officer to the address,
it would have placed him in a high degree of jeopardy."

And if police can't arrest the recipient, they also can't question him
to get information about the traffickers, Hunsinger said.

FedEx insists the company does not do anything that would let
traffickers know that their drug shipments have been intercepted and
does work with police.

"This is the first time I've ever heard anything like that," company
spokesman Jim McCluskey said on Thursday.

"We've still had instances in recent times where controlled deliveries
are taking place," he said. "They are occurring."

When someone punches a package's tracking number into FedEx's online
system, McCluskey said, they'll only learn that a package is in
transit, at a FedEx facility or has been delivered.

"The online page you pull up is going to have the relevant information
on that package at that point in time - it's not a lengthy and
detailed report," he said.

That wasn't the case Jan. 11, when officials at FedEx's shipping
center on Mitchell Bridge Road found the pot that was destined for
Auburn, according to police.

"One of our investigators had a conversation with a (FedEx) loss
prevention guy, who said they had to log into the system that they
turned it over to us," Hunsinger said.

McCluskey plans to review what happened in Athens and that may lead
company representatives and law enforcement authorities to review
policies and procedures to make sure they're not working at cross purposes.

"Hopefully we can get it straightened out," Hunsinger said. 
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