DEA Congressional Testimony
May 26, 2000

Statement by:

Joseph D. Keefe
Special Agent in Charge
Special Operations Division
Drug Enforcement Administration

Before the:

Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources


May 26, 2000

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear today to discuss the issue of the proliferation of drug trafficking through the public and private mail services. I would first like to thank the Subcommittee for its continued support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and overall support of drug law enforcement.

Drug traffickers are continually looking for creative and innovative means to circumvent and elude law enforcement from detecting their illicit contraband. They look for new and different ways to transport and distribute their illegal drugs. Their innovative abilities are keys to how successful they will be and how much wealth they accumulate. Therefore, drug trafficking organizations will exploit any means possible to safeguard their drug shipments from law enforcement detection, and they do so without any regard to the wake of destruction that drug use and abuse creates.

Drug trafficking organizations have learned to be compartmentalized for security reasons. This is to ensure that no individual member, if arrested, will have knowledge of the entire inner workings of the organization. Drug traffickers recognize that the transportation of drugs is the weakest link in the drug chain. Typically, drugs are most vulnerable to detection when they are transported from one location to another. This is largely due to the fact that traffickers utilize couriers who employ a variety of methods in an attempt to avoid detection or suspicion by law enforcement. However, it is just this type of habitual activity that trained law enforcement agents and officers have learned to look for, which ultimately gives rise to suspicion. In addition, though a drug courier's knowledge of the entire drug trafficking organization may be limited, such limited information is vulnerable to a variety of investigative methods used to target and dismantle the entire drug trafficking organization.

As a result of aggressive, proactive law enforcement operations, these drug trafficking organizations have resorted to a number of methods and trends in order to minimize their exposure to law enforcement. One such trend is the use of the private and public mail service in order to transport and distribute a variety of illegal drugs. While the proliferation of mail service businesses is not necessarily a new trend, there has been a noticeable increase in the use of the mail and overnight delivery services by various drug trafficking groups.

The use of private parcel companies provides trafficking groups the ability to transport illegal drugs without utilizing traditional drug couriers. The absence of this "human" element can frustrate interdiction efforts because packages that are intercepted routinely have fictitious return addresses and are often mailed to Post Office boxes or private mailboxes. This provides the sender with the much needed anonymity in the event the package is intercepted by law enforcement. In addition, the use of overnight delivery services affords traffickers the ability to ship their illegal drugs rapidly. In the event an overnight delivery package is interdicted, law enforcement officers must work on an extremely limited time frame in order to secure a search warrant for the package as well as initiate an operational plan for a controlled delivery of suspected drug packages. Drug traffickers have learned to grow suspicious of any delay in the delivery of these overnight packages and will refuse delivery of a delayed parcel fearing law enforcement intervention.

The investigation of these types of interdiction cases requires a comprehensive and cooperative law enforcement approach. In 1993, DEA recognized the need to formalize this interdiction effort and subsequently established a Special Enforcement Program which combined the talents of a variety of Federal, state and local narcotic investigators who implemented a unique training program. The purpose of the program is to provide uniform, standardized training and statistical analysis to other Federal, state, and local drug interdiction units working at a variety of locations including mail parcel facilities. Over the years, this training, along with the combined investigations of DEA, FBI, the U.S. Customs Service and members of state and local police departments has resulted in numerous drug seizures and arrests. In Calendar Year 1999, as a result of pursuing these types of investigations, approximately 9,843 kilograms of marijuana, 303 kilograms of Cocaine, 1 kilogram of heroin and over $3.4 million in currency as well as 61 weapons were seized.

The continued success of this type of enforcement operation is also contingent on the law enforcement community's ability to cooperate with the various commercial delivery services as well as the United States Postal Service. Historically, DEA has enjoyed an outstanding relationship with these organizations, which has resulted in continued success. Recently, Acting Administrator Marshall directed the DEA Operations Division to coordinate future meetings with the respective heads of the various commercial package delivery services. It is our expectation that these meetings will be the impetus for a more cohesive strategy between DEA and private industry relative to the problem of drug smuggling through these services.

An example of such cooperative investigative pursuits was the initiation of Operation Green Air. On April 13, 2000, DEA, in conjunction with the U.S. Customs Service (USCS), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), various U.S. Attorneys' offices, the DOJ/Criminal Division, a variety of local law enforcement agencies and the Federal Express (FedEx) corporation, culminated an 18-month nationwide investigation known as Operation Green Air. Operation Green Air targeted a Los Angeles-based marijuana trafficking organization, which is estimated to have made $30 million from illegal drug trafficking. The investigation resulted in the arrests of over 104 individuals, the seizure of 35,000 pounds of marijuana and $4.2 million in U.S. currency and assets. The investigation also focused on corrupt FedEx employees in Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, New York and New Jersey. Those charged include 25 employees of FedEx Corporation, including a FedEx security official in New York City, customer service representatives and drivers. Federal complaints and indictments charge various members of the organization with the importation and distribution of more than 100 tons of marijuana. Several of the defendants were charged with using FedEx Corporation airplanes, trucks and facilities across the country to ship the marijuana with an estimated wholesale value of $140 million.

Operation Green Air identified a Jamaican national who had direct command and control of all U.S. distribution cells for this marijuana trafficking organization. This particular drug trafficking organization was found to have more than 100 members. The head of this organization recruited FedEx employees as participants in the organization. The employees ensured that the marijuana was placed on Federal Express aircraft for transportation from the West Coast to the East Coast, provided security for the marijuana while the shipments were housed in FedEx facilities, and subsequently delivered the marijuana to members of the various distribution cells.

Other Federal Express employees manipulated the corporations billing and internal accounting procedures in order to conceal the cost and thwart any efforts to trace these shipments. Federal Express internal records show that this organization's manipulation resulted in the free shipment of approximately 117 tons of gross weight (marijuana) from coast to coast. The marijuana was always shipped in standard-sized cardboard boxes in order to fit on Federal Express aircraft and the organization often placed laundry detergent and other products inside the boxes in an effort to conceal the smell of the marijuana.

The drug proceeds from the sale of the marijuana were collected in New York, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, and other distribution cities. Jamaican females were utilized as couriers to body-carry the money to Los Angeles on commercial airlines. The investigation subsequently revealed that this organization transported approximately $1 million a week to the Los Angeles-based cell. In addition, the investigation revealed that organizational members invested drug proceeds in businesses and properties located in Jamaica.

The outstanding success of Operation Green Air highlights the effectiveness of such cooperative drug investigations and serves as an example of what combined law enforcement and private industry can accomplish in the fight against drug trafficking in this nation.

Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee today. Let me assure you that the DEA will continue to develop and implement innovative approaches in order to address the threat posed by drug traffickers. We are committed to working cooperatively with our law enforcement partners and with businesses and organizations that are dedicated to take a stand against those individuals responsible for such criminal activity. At this time I will be happy to entertain any questions you may have.

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