Pubdate: Tue, 04 Dec 2012
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2012 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Ian Duncan


Patchwork Laws, Plentiful Supplies Help Spur California-Maryland 
Trade in the Mail

James A. Buck gladly accepted the package at his Parkville office 
from the deliveryman wearing a UPS uniform.

But minutes later, police swooped in to arrest Buck, 57, and seized 
the parcel, which had contained three pounds of marijuana he sent to 
himself from California, according to court records. Buck pleaded 
guilty to a possession charge, though he said in a recent interview 
that the drugs were for medicinal use.

Buck's case and search warrants unsealed last week offer a glimpse 
into a long-standing - and growing - smuggling practice: mailing 
drugs from California to Maryland.

"It's very easy to do without it being detected just because of the 
sheer volume of mail," said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore police 
major and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, 
a group that advocates legalizing and regulating drugs. "It's worth 
taking the chance to do it: It sure beats driving, and you definitely 
don't want to get on a plane with it."

The U.S. Postal Service and private parcel services have become 
popular shipping choices for traffickers as drug laws have evolved. 
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana more 
than 15 years ago, and dispensaries have proliferated there. 
Meanwhile, more than a dozen states have followed suit, and last 
month Colorado and Washington state voters approved ballot measures 
legalizing recreational marijuana.

It was not the first time Buck, who described himself as an advocate 
for legalizing marijuana, had tried sending himself a marijuana 
stash. He said he typically triple vacuum-seals it to avoid detection 
by drug-sniffing dogs. He also believes that marijuana residue can 
remain on a package if smoked while packing it.

In Buck's case, authorities had already confiscated most of the 
marijuana and then set up the delivery as a way to arrest him, posing 
as a regular UPS courier, according to a warrant. The United Parcel 
Service and other private carriers work with federal officials on 
investigations; in this one, the Drug Enforcement Administration was 
on the case.

Last week, about 20 federal search warrants were unsealed in 
Baltimore, providing details on how law enforcement cracks down on 
mail schemes. About half of the packages from California were 
suspected of containing drugs and the other half contained money 
being sent back to that state.

On a busy Thursday in August at a Linthicum Heights U.S. Postal 
Service processing facility, Diesel, a Montgomery County police 
drug-sniffing dog, located parcels that were later shown to contain 
two kilograms of cocaine and more than eight kilograms of marijuana, 
according to the court documents.

One of the packages contained 515 grams of marijuana nestled in two 
cereal boxes. Other shipments were wrapped up with clothing.

The following month, Diesel and Ace, another dog, were set to work 
sniffing out cash and found packages containing almost $100,000 that 
investigators suspect was payment for mailed drugs.

"Express Mail and Priority Mail services are regularly used to ship 
controlled substances and bulk cash through the U.S. Mail," postal 
inspector Christopher Callahan wrote in the search warrant applications.

Callahan added that investigators also look for certain California 
ZIP codes in the return address and check the parcels' weight. If an 
initial screening raises suspicions, the dogs are brought in.

Senders often try to fool authorities by using false names, so that 
the names and addresses on packages don't match, making suspects 
harder to track down and sometimes drawing unsuspecting recipients 
into the schemes.

In 2008, Cheye Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights in Prince George's 
County, unwittingly accepted a package stuffed with marijuana and 
sent to his house. Officers raided Calvo's home and shot his two 
dogs. Later, the county police chief described Calvo as an "innocent 
victim" of a trafficking scheme.

Frank Schissler, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, 
which investigates crimes that use the mail, said one case was 
referred to local law enforcement in the time frame covered by the 
warrants. He declined to comment further on the investigation.

Postal inspectors arrested 1,327 people nationally for sending drugs 
in the mail and seized $14.6 million in proceeds in fiscal 2011, the 
latest year for which statistics are available. By comparison, in 
fiscal 2007, 860 suspects were arrested for drug trafficking via the 
mail, and $3.8 million was seized. The inspectors often work with 
local police on the cases.

"There is an increase that we're trying to address through our 
proactive efforts with other law enforcement agencies," Schissler said.

Private carriers also have their own security measures.

"FedEx has a 40-year history of close cooperation with law 
enforcement to prevent the misuse of our networks," said Patrick 
Fitzgerald, the company's vice president of communications. "We have 
security measures in place, but we do not discuss them."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom