In 2014, federal authorities discovered several tunnels that were used to get drugs from the Mexican side of the border into the United States. A 74-year-old California woman who was implicated in the operation of one of those underground passageways was recently sentenced in federal court in San Diego to five years of probation. Authorities apparently suspected her involvement in the drug trafficking operation, but she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money and was fined $1,500 for her role in leasing the property along with two men that she knew.
Another emerging problem seen in California recently is the specter of police officers being charged and prosecuted for their alleged involvement in drug-related activities. The recent arrest of a Yuba City police officer for alleged involvement in a cocaine ring is indicative of the kind of drug crimes that have had the alleged involvement of law enforcement officers. The 35-year-old officer was arrested and charged by federal officials as part of a larger investigation into cocaine trafficking.
It is so easy for federal investigators to obtain court approval for a wiretap of a private phone that in 2013, out of 3577 requests to federal judges, only one was denied. That may seem like a necessary and normal concession to prosecutors and federal investigators, but to defendants who may have their privacy invaded, and who may even be innocent, the statistic raises grave doubts about the basic fairness of the procedure. To representatives of civil rights groups, the apparent pro forma approval of wiretaps in drug crimes and drug trafficking cases may be indicative of the assault on civil liberties that has been given wide approval in the country and in California during the 21st Century.
When the government ignores a suspect's claims that he or she acted under duress in a drug smuggling incident when entering the country from Mexico, the case may be dismissed if the defendant is prevented from presenting his or her claim. When the government destroys video evidence that would support the suspect's claim of duress, the drug crimes case may also be dismissed. According to a decision recently handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a case based on an arrest made at one of California's border checkpoints has been dismissed.
Because high-volume sales of illegal drugs can lead to the possession of large amounts of cash by drug dealers, strategies are needed to convert that illegal cash into funds that appear to be legitimately earned. Under federal money laundering laws, a violation could lead to a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years. In California and other areas, a popular way of changing money from illegal drug trafficking into apparently legal money is by funneling it through a business that does a large volume of cash sales.
Big drug sweeps in California may look like a flurry of aggressive government activity, but in reality, just like the war against drugs in general, such operations may have very little long-term anti-drug impact. That may be true about a recent sweep in Salinas, but it's too early to make any conclusions about the events. The operation took place in an area of Salinas that the authorities called Chinatown, although none of those arrested for drug trafficking and other crimes had names that are even remotely Chinese in origin.
For many years, state and federal police agencies in California and throughout the nation have enjoyed a system of asset forfeiture in drug cases that has worked to their financial benefit. When a defendant is arrested on drug crimes, a separate asset forfeiture action is pursued, and the suspect's assets in certain instances may be summarily seized. The purpose of the expansive asset forfeiture procedure has been to take away the fruits of the drug criminal's illegal activities.
Many drug cases in California and elsewhere are based on allegations of prescription excesses and the reckless over-prescribing of narcotics by doctors. Rarely, however, does a case allege that doctors and others are intentionally conspiring for the mass distribution of illegal narcotics in a major drug trafficking scheme. Authorities have announced such a plot with the arrest of five people in a "pill mill" case that allegedly involves doctors and laypersons in a widespread conspiracy to distribute illegal narcotics and other addictive medications.
In California and every other state, the authorities regularly file drug charges against doctors who they believe have written improper prescriptions and over-prescribed pain killers and other substances. In most of these cases, the defendant charged with drug crimes finds it fruitless to defend, because they usually have the patients testifying against them. That is often because the patients are either co-defendants looking for leniency or because they have agreed to testify against the doctor to keep themselves out of trouble.
East Los Angeles was the scene of a particularly dramatic raid on Dec. 10 when over 800 federal and California law enforcement officers fanned out to arrest 38 members of a street gang reputed to be closely tied to a powerful prison gang. Members of the Big Hazard gang were indicted under the federal RICO criminal conspiracy laws. At the heart of the indictment was the allegation of a wide array of drug crimes and violent crimes that the gang carries out.