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Drug Dealers Use U.S. Postal Service as Courier


December 1996

According to federal law enforcement officials, there is a rise in use of the U.S. Postal Service to distribute drugs and transport drug profits. But expanded investigations have led to an increase in seizures and arrests (Pierre Thomas, "Drug Dealers Employ U.S. Mail as Carrier," Washington Post, November 4, 1996, p. A1; Pierre Thomas, "Mail order drug deals on the rise," Chicago Tribune, November 4, 1996, s. 1, p. 20).

In the last two years, postal inspectors have arrested 3,763 people for using the mail to distribute drugs and have confiscated more than 18 tons of marijuana, over 1,500 pounds of cocaine, thousands of doses of other illicit drugs and at least $20 million in cash. However, federal officials admit that they are only seizing a small fraction of what is actually sent through the mail.

The mail "is a viable method of moving drugs," admits DEA spokesman James McGivney. Traffickers use the mail because it is relatively inexpensive, timely, and the volume of mail handled by U.S. Postal Service works against detection. There are nearly 30,000 post offices across the country handling millions of pieces of mail each day. "You are talking about a massive number of parcels to even consider examining," said U.S. postal inspector Dan Mihalko. Mailing drugs also gives traffickers flexibility to expand their markets to areas where traditional drug-dealing systems are less profitable or practical. Express Mail or overnight delivery is the preferred method because dealers can move their drugs quickly and covertly and get the proceeds back in the same fashion.

To counter the drug trade through the mail, law enforcement official have created teams of DEA agents, postal inspectors and local police to detect drug parcels. In addition, National Guard divisions are now working with postal inspectors in 24 states in detection efforts. Increased efforts have led to a dramatic increase in drug and money seizures and arrests. For example, postal inspectors seized 964,000 grams of marijuana in 1992 compared to 8.3 million grams seized so far this year.

Inspectors rely on tips, drug-sniffing dogs and profiling methods to identify suspected narcotics packages. Before a package is opened, inspectors must obtain a search warrant, which authorities must rush to get. A delay in obtaining a search warrant causes delayed packages, tipping dealers off to a possible investigation.

The mail service identified the cities from which most of the drugs are shipped, including towns along the U.S./Mexico border, Puerto Rico, New York and cities in Southern California. The most frequent destinations include Richmond, Detroit, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and New York.