"How Can the Federal Government Assist State and Local Programs to Protect Citizens & Communities Against Drug-Related Violence?"
Chairman Souder, Ranking Member Cummings and distinguished members of the subcommittee, it is a pleasure to appear before you today to discuss the Baltimore/Washington High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area's (HIDTA) initiative entitled The Baltimore Initiative. My name is Preston Grubbs, and I am the Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Baltimore District Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). On behalf of Acting Administrator William B. Simpkins, Washington Division Special Agent in Charge R.C. Gamble, and the men and women of DEA, I want to thank this Subcommittee for its unwavering support.
DEA is an investigative law enforcement agency whose primary duty is to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations. As a single mission agency, DEA is the world's leading drug law enforcement agency. In addition to 21 domestic field division offices in the United States, DEA maintains over 600 personnel in 58 countries in support of enforcement and intelligence initiatives.
Overview of the Washington Division/Baltimore District Office
The Washington Division is a large, multi-state area encompassing urban and rural drug markets. The Division includes the Baltimore District Office. The Division's area of responsibility includes the District of Columbia, as well as Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. While the Division's urban areas continue to face the threats posed by crack cocaine and heroin distribution, rural areas are experiencing expanding crack cocaine markets, marijuana cultivation and abuse, and methamphetamine manufacture and abuse. The Division is also seeing the production and abuse of synthetic drugs, particularly GHB, Ecstasy, and Oxycontin increase exponentially.
The Division's illegal drug trade is shaped by several factors including its proximity to New York City, the most significant wholesale level drug distribution center in the northeastern United States. Wholesale level traffickers based in New York supply the majority of the cocaine and heroin available within the Division. Also important is the Division's strategic location on the I-95 corridor between New York City and Miami, both of which are key wholesale drug distribution centers, and major drug importation hubs. The Southwest border also serves as an important source of supply.
High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)
The HIDTA program is a national strategy providing federal assistance in coordinating law enforcement efforts of local, state and federal entities in areas where major drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution flourish. Linking all of these resources enhances the investigative results of participating law enforcement agencies.
Let me begin by addressing the HIDTA program in Baltimore. The DEA views the HIDTA program as an integral partner in our mission to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations. By leveraging the resources, manpower and equipment of numerous law enforcement entities we can --and have -- achieved tremendous success. We see the benefit at the local level, but it can go much further than that. The purpose of the program is to provide much needed funds and assistance to law enforcement entities within designated areas of the nation to improve the effectiveness of all law enforcement.
Baltimore District Office/HIDTA Task Force Groups
Here in Baltimore, the DEA participates in three HIDTA Task Force Enforcement Groups. The Mass Transportation Initiative concentrates its group efforts in targeting drug transportation and smuggling organizations moving drugs into and through the Baltimore Metropolitan area. This is accomplished mainly via interdiction efforts at the airport, train and bus stations, and the interstates. The Violent Traffickers Initiative focuses its group efforts in targeting local drug trafficking organizations which employ violence to sustain the viability of their illicit activities. The Major Drug Traffickers Initiative focuses its group investigative efforts against the larger priority target drug trafficking organizations in the Baltimore Metropolitan area. Also included in this last initiative is a REDRUM group, whose main focus is to investigate drug trafficking organizations with a nexus to drug related homicides. Collectively, these Baltimore area HIDTA Initiatives include detectives and investigators from the Baltimore Police Department, the Baltimore County Police Department, the Anne Arundel County Police Department, the Annapolis Police Department, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and the Maryland State Police.
In addition to these three HIDTA groups, the DEA Baltimore office has two additional enforcement groups. The Major Traffickers Group is comprised of DEA Special Agents who focus investigative efforts on the largest wholesale drug trafficking organizations in the Baltimore Region with emphasis on links to other organizations throughout the country. The goal of this group is to identify and dismantle the organizations responsible for supplying wholesale amounts of drugs into Maryland and the Baltimore region. The Heroin Task Force Group, which includes DEA Special Agents and Baltimore Police Department detectives, is tasked with targeting heroin trafficking organizations in Baltimore.
The Baltimore Targeting Initiative
For the past several years, the focus of the Baltimore District Office of the DEA has been to target violent drug trafficking organizations operating in Baltimore, in partnership with our state and local counterparts, thereby positively contributing to the quality of life of the citizens we serve. I firmly believe that as members of this community, the Baltimore DEA office has a huge stake in curbing the violence and drug trafficking in our communities. Unfortunately, the Dawson Family tragedy highlights in many ways the problems we face in combating the drug trafficking organizations operating in Baltimore and the violence associated with them. Following that horrible tragedy, I made all investigative resources of the Baltimore DEA office available to target the perpetrators of this heinous crime as well as to target the drug distribution organizations in the Dawson's neighborhood. I can assure you that our HIDTA REDRUM group has identified an organization in the neighborhood and is making progress toward the goal of dismantling that group.
Following the Dawson tragedy, at the request of the Honorable Congressman Elijah Cummings, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director John Walters reallocated two million dollars in HIDTA funds to the Baltimore Targeting Initiative in order to focus investigative efforts against the violent drug trafficking organizations in Baltimore. One hundred thousand dollars of these funds were allocated to supplement the 2003 budget of our HIDTA Major Drug Traffickers Initiative enforcement groups to include the REDRUM group. I would like to provide the Subcommittee with some details regarding how these additional resources were utilized in combating drug trafficking in the Baltimore area.
Historically, the Major Drug Traffickers Initiative (MDTI) has always targeted drug trafficking organizations via the use of wiretaps. MDTI continues to conduct the majority of its investigations in this manner and with great success. This method of investigation has proven to be quite effective in dismantling drug trafficking organizations; however, it comes at a significant cost. Each telephone line intercepted costs approximately $2,500 per month. These investigations normally involve the intercept of numerous telephone lines over the course of several months, and therefore the overall cost of these investigations mount quickly. Of the one hundred thousand dollars allocated to MDTI for 2003, the group has spent approximately seventy thousand thus far on these types of investigations in the Baltimore Targeting Initiative area.
One such wiretap investigation recently concluded by MDTI concentrated on an organization operating in both the Eastern and Western Districts of Baltimore City, areas designated in HIDTA's Baltimore Targeting Initiative. The investigation actually started in September 2002, after several search warrants were executed in the area of the 700-800 blocks of Rose Street and Milton Avenue, resulting in the debriefing of a street level lieutenant working for the leader of a drug trafficking organization (DTO). Information showed that this organization was responsible for distributing kilogram quantities of cocaine packaged in vials and marijuana in the areas of Rose Street and Milton Avenue between Madison and Monument Streets.
On November 1, 2002, MDTI started a court-authorized interception of cellular telephones belonging to the members of this organization. During the investigation, it was determined that this organization controlled street shops in the Eastern District and that a street lieutenant was controlling the day to day operation of this street drug distribution network.
Early surveillance revealed houses being utilized by street runners. These locations were targets of search and seizure warrants on East Madison Street and East Federal Street which yielded small amounts of cocaine packaged in vials and arrests of street level distributors.
On December 10, 2002, additional investigative action including surveillances and intercepted conversations led to the issuance of a search warrant at Pentland Avenue and the arrest of an organization member. This warrant yielded several hundred Ziploc bags of marijuana and a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun. On January 17, 2003, intercepted conversations led to the arrest of a fugitive from New York and the seizure of over 150 grams of cocaine. Investigators subsequently learned that this fugitive was wanted in New York on an outstanding warrant for attempted murder.
This investigation determined that the leader of this DTO was receiving cocaine from several sources, each with a history of drug distribution and weapons violations. A total of five cellular telephones were intercepted during the course of the investigation. At the conclusion of the wiretaps, Baltimore City Grand Jury indictments were returned against the DTO leader for Drug Kingpin charges, as well as, nine members of the organization, each indicted on conspiracy charges relating to the telephone interceptions. Thirteen search and seizure warrants were executed on March 4th, 5th, and 6th, 2003, resulting in the seizure of over 500 grams of powder cocaine, over 300 vials of packaged cocaine, approximately $50,000 currency, five semi-automatic weapons, over 100,000 empty vials, vial tops, Ziploc bags, Quinine, Manitol and other cutting materials. To date ten individuals have been arrested in this investigation and the organization has been successfully dismantled.
Another example of an investigation currently being conducted by MDTI is actually ongoing as I testify before you today. This investigation started in March of this year and targets a large scale heroin trafficking organization operating in the Baltimore Targeting Initiative area. The MDTI group has been able to make several purchases of heroin from the organization. These purchases have been accomplished utilizing funding from the Baltimore Targeting Initiative. With the average price of heroin selling for one hundred dollars per gram on the streets of Baltimore, you can easily see that these purchases are of no small sum. Additional investigative efforts are underway to identify command and control elements of the organization, which will enable us to target sources of supply.
As I previously stated, the MDTI has thus far spent approximately seventy thousand dollars of the one hundred thousand allocated. Approximately sixty thousand dollars has been spent on the costs associated with the interception of telephones and approximately ten thousand dollars has been spent on the purchases of drug evidence. I fully anticipate that the remaining funds will be spent in a similar fashion. In total, the additional ONDCP funding has facilitated MDTI in targeting, dismantling, and/or working to dismantle four separate drug trafficking organizations in the Baltimore Targeting Initiative.
Analysis of the Baltimore Heroin Market
And finally, in furtherance of our heroin enforcement objectives, DEA, the National Drug Intelligence Center, HIDTA, and the Baltimore Police Department are in the initial stages of preparing a strategic study of the heroin situation in the city. The purpose of the study is to grasp a clearer understanding of the heroin market in Baltimore and to attempt to identify vulnerabilities so that heroin trafficking can be more effectively attacked. The study will also attempt to identify how the Baltimore heroin market is influenced by other cities. The proposed outline for the study includes heroin abuse and health related problems, transportation and distribution; to include a clear description of how an organization operates, and clearly describe street level or retail markets. It is my hope that the report will be a model to enhance cooperative efforts and allow law enforcement to be more proactive in Baltimore and the East Coast region. The report will be useful for all law enforcement agencies engaged in the investigation of heroin traffickers.
The DEA believes the HIDTA program is a critical component in the Administration's drug enforcement efforts. Maintaining the focus on the HIDTA mission and emphasizing the most significant targets will go a long way in not only achieving the disruption and dismantling of national and international organizations, but also in keeping drugs off of local streets. DEA stands ready to take on any challenge and lead in America's fight to reduce drug trafficking and abuse.
Again, I would like to thank the Subcommittee for the opportunity to testify today, and I would be happy to answer any questions at the appropriate time.