They called it “Operation Cookout”. And it was a massive three-state drug ring broken up by police who seized enough fentanyl to kill 14 million people.
Thirty-five suspects were arrested, and four others are on the run.
“This opioid crisis is not an issue that is happening someplace else, or to someone else. It’s happening right here in Norfolk,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
In total, we’re talking about more than 30 kilograms of fentanyl, 30 kilograms of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine and over $700,000 seized.
Police say it’s the largest drug takedown in Virginia in 15 years.
On top of the drugs and cash, they also seized roughly 24 firearms, including an AK-47.
“We’re not talking about $500 and $600 deals, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Terwilliger said. “You know, $20,000 in the trunk of somebody’s car in a gym bag, you know, behind a local restaurant.”
Here’s how it went down. According to Terwilliger, one of the 39 people charged ordered fentanyl from Shanghai and had it delivered to Virginia through the mail.
“The last thing we want is for the U.S. Postal Service to become the nation’s largest drug dealer,” he added.
According to Terwilliger, most fentanyl comes from Chinese labs.
Since May, there’s been an increased effort to hold China accountable for drugs like fentanyl that are manufactured there and smuggled to the U.S.
There’s currently a bipartisan bill in the Senate that would sanction Chinese labs and traffickers that export the drug.The bust should serve as a warning to other dealers, said Hampton Police Chief Terry Sult.
“If you’re out there, you’re using firearms, you’re dealing drugs and you’re hurting people in our communities, this is the group of people that’s coming after you,” he said. “And we’re relentless.”
In the meantime, on Thursday the Coast Guard announced that the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward has seized about 2,800 pounds of cocaine during their first drug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Those drugs worth an estimated $38.5 million.
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Back in May, police in Brevard County, Florida arrested 100 people in a massive drug bust where they seized enough fentanyl to kill every person in their county.
The arrests were all connected to a criminal organization and were part of a multi-agency investigation into it. Police said the operation brought huge amounts of opiates including heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine from outside the county into Brevard to sell.
The Special Investigations Unit and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized 75 firearms, more than $80,000 worth of meth and more than 500,000 lethal doses of fentanyl. The sheriff’s office said it’s enough “kill every single resident of Brevard County”.
“This is what happens if you deal drugs in Brevard County,” one official with the sheriff’s office can be heard saying in a video showing suspects being escorted out of a home in chains. “You end up going to jail.”
The nationwide opioid crisis has crushed Brevard County. In the last 10 years, there have been more than 650 opiate-related overdose deaths, many of which were tied to fentanyl.
“This has been one of the biggest cases our agency has ever worked on or our county has ever seen. And the individuals you see here were preying on the addictions of others by selling drugs. They’re going to jail and that’s where they need to be.”
It’s not the first time these 100 suspects have been busted – police say they are all repeate offenders, and now face an array of conspiracy, trafficking and racketeering-related charges.
The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office had a little fun with the busts on social media. Here’s one of the suspects.
From Brevard County Sheriff’s Office:
SERIOUSLY…YOU THOUGHT THAT WIG WOULD KEEP THE “GAME OVER TASK FORCE” FROM RECOGNIZING YOU?
Earlier today members of our Game Over Task Force received information from our citizens on a location where fugitive Robert “Bobby” Walls was hiding at a residence. Walls was wanted as a result of the culmination of a significant drug investigation that lead to the issuance of arrest warrants for over 100 subjects.
As Agents arrived in the area they were able to confirm that Walls was inside the residence and began to set up a perimeter. Subsequent to their arrival, Agents observed a white male subject leave the residence on a bicycle who matched the description of Walls. The only exception to the description was that the subject on the bicycle had long blonde hair.
Not being fooled by this incredible disguise (insert sarcasm) Agents followed the subject and eventually caught up to him on Range Rd. Once the Agents stopped the subject, they determined it was Walls wearing a long blonde wig and took him into custody without incident.
Walls stated that he knew he was wanted and was using the wig as a disguise to avoid arrest. Walls further stated that had he known Agents were already in the area he would have taken off into the woods.
The crisis isn’t limited to Brevard County. Far from it.
Earlier this year, for example, there was a huge fentanyl bust of a Mexican national by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. He was allegedly carrying a record amount, with enough fentanyl to kill 57 million Americans, according to an internal memo first reported on “Tucker Carlson Tonight”.
The unnamed suspect was carrying more than 114 kilograms of fentanyl, 1 kilogram of fentanyl pills, and 179 kilograms of methamphetamine in the floor of a tractor-trailer.
The suspect was apparently part of the “Fast and Secure Trade Program”. After his arrest, FAST card was “processed for revocation.”
While everyone is debating over building a wall on the border, there’s one area that has actually found common ground in Congress. According to Greg Giuntini, Director of Market Development for DetectaChem, that’s in the drug battle.
“One of the few issues that politicians have agreed upon during the wall funding debate is that our Customs and Border Protection officers need new and advanced drug detection technology,” he said.
And the funds are already being quietly allocated for that battle, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase that drug detection technology to help secure our borders.
This is good news for companies like DetectaChem, which was just named as the #1 fentanyl detection product commercially available today in a major U.S. Army evaluation of 21 different products.
“The Trump administration and Customs and Border Protection are aware of the products available and many of the evaluated products are expected to be integrated into the new drug detection technology infrastructure,” said Giuntini.
The DetectaChem MobileDetect product has already been integrated into much of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Homeland Security and many police departments across the country because of its next-generation technology and low cost.
“There are several products on the market that cost north of $50,000 and were evaluated as less effective than our test kits working with the MobileDetect app,” said Giuntini. “At $3.50 for each Multi Drug Fentanyl Test kit and our free app, all levels of law enforcement officers can cost-effectively detect fentanyl.”
The company has long been a leader in explosives detection and is now conquering the drug detection side.
And the threat is staggering.
In 2016, over 42,000 deaths were attributed to opioid overdoses, with nearly half of that number directly related to fentanyl. In 2017, the average life expectancy in the U.S. has decreased for the first time in decades due to opioid-related deaths. This is likely going to be the same for 2018 unfortunately.
But the threat doesn’t just stop at law enforcement and drug users. There is an increasing risk that the substance could potentially be weaponized and unleashed on the public.
Fentanyl has been weaponized before in Moscow in 2002 when Chechen separatists held 850 hostages at the Dubrovka Theater. The Russian military pumped an aerosolized fentanyl through the ventilation system with the intent to incapacitate everyone in the theater in order to safely remove the hostages while suppressing the Chechens. However, the concentration was miscalculated and was far too potent resulting in the deaths of all terrorists and as many as 130 hostages.
A kilo of pure carfentanil attached to a drone is a legitimate CWA threat.
If slits or holes were cut in the kilo and then flown through a crowded enclosed public space like a subway station or shopping mall, there would be a mass exposure almost certainly resulting in numerous fatalities.
One thing is for certain. The battle over the wall is sure to rage on. But the battle over drugs is something that we now have the tools and soon the funding to fix – if we’re willing to take on the fight.
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