Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kansas City is the hub for drug traffickers: New study gives more reasons to pull over cars on I35

As if the police needed another reason to be suspicious of drivers traveling on interstate 35, a recent article in the Kansas City Star has placed KC smack dab in the middle of the countries drug distribution network.  Driver's beware, especially with all the construction on I 35, the police will be out watching, waiting on you to make a mistake.  Big drug arrests are often made on normal traffic stops.  Ergo, the more traffic stops the more drug arrests.  Its a numbers game, so watch your speed and stay alert.


Kansas City seen as a hub for drug traffickers on Interstate 35

Author:  Mark Morris of the KC Star

I-35 is a favorite of smugglers for the same reason other travelers use it — it’s convenient.

A federal study has put Kansas City on the map in a way that it never wanted.  Maps from the study show Kansas City as a prime destination for drug traffickers who bring cocaine, heroin, marijuana and, to a lesser extent, methamphetamine from Mexico. And Interstate 35 is their highway of choice.  Kansas City is a hub,” said Mike Oyler, an FBI agent who investigates drug trafficking in Missouri and Kansas. “It’s like a trucking business. You have two of the biggest interstates in the country converging here.”

The maps are the clearest official statement yet of what officials have written for about a decade: Kansas City is both a significant drug market and a major distribution point for drugs headed north and east from the U.S. Southwest.  The maps are contained in the National Drug Intelligence Center’s 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment, its annual unclassified study of emerging trends in drug trafficking, the use of illegal drugs and the organizations that perpetuate the narcotics business.  In years past, the center, which compiles the threat assessment from seizure data and interviews with federal, state and local law enforcement, has confined its mapping to broad corridors.  In last year’s report, Kansas City sat, undistinguished, in the middle of a transportation map bounded by Duluth, Minn., to the north, Chicago and New Orleans to the east, Laredo, Texas, to the south and a meandering line from the Big Bend area of Texas back to Duluth in the West.

The new maps, released this fall, put Kansas City in much sharper relief: It sits at the end of some very fat arrows headed north, 970 miles from Laredo. Smaller arrows sweep drugs brought in from Arizona and New Mexico into that march up I-35.

According to the study, the size of the arrows suggests the volume of drugs that traffickers moved along the routes between 2008 and 2010. The report, based on closely held data on total drug seizures throughout the U.S., does not put a quantitative number on that volume, but the arrow pointing to Kansas City is as impressive as any on the map.  David Barton, director of the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal effort coordinating law enforcement efforts in a six-state region, said the new maps reflect a reality for transporters of legal and illegal commodities.  “It’s geography,” Barton said. “We’re right in the middle of the country, and everything goes through here.”

Barton said the maps reflect newer and more robust data about drug transportation gathered over the past three years. Better data allows law enforcement at all levels to better discern trafficking patterns and routes, and devise strategies to combat it when those patterns and routes shift, as they can on a daily basis.
The fruits of that effort is a quickening tempo of large, multi-defendant narcotics trafficking prosecutions filed in federal court, Barton said.  Indeed, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, prosecutors in Kansas City have indicted more than 100 people in several large drug conspiracy cases since January. More large cases are in the pipeline, Barton added.  And though a drug trafficker’s life is full of challenges, Oyler said, they view getting the drugs into America’s heartland without incident as an accomplishment.  “In the drug dealers’ eyes, getting the drugs into mid-America is a success for them,” Oyler said. “They breathe a sigh of relief.”

Police, federal agents and highway patrol troopers have for decades had to adjust to the ever-changing ways that traffickers hide illegal drugs in cars and trucks as they head north from the Mexican border.  For a small load, just burying it inside a much larger commercial shipment can make drugs all but undetectable. FBI agent Tim Swanson noted that a kilo — or 2.2 pounds — of cocaine will fit in a shoebox.  “It’s easy to conceal,” Swanson said. “A kilo is not that big.”Other than the northern and southern U.S. borders, the drug threat assessment does not describe drug seizures by region of the country, so it’s difficult to say how seizures in the Kansas City area compare with those elsewhere.

However, of all the narcotics seized in the United States in 2010, well more than half was taken within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Overall, seizures of cocaine declined more than 30 percent between 2006 and 2010, while seizures of methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana remained steady or generally increased.
Officers always are looking for new places for secret compartments, and at times even new vehicles. In the past few months, agents on the U.S.-Mexican border have seized almost a ton of marijuana hidden in steamroller drums, a hiding spot once favored by Central American gun runners.  But traffickers are doing more to move drugs along the route than hiding them in passenger cars or concealing dope in commercial loads of Mexican bathroom fixtures.  “FedEx comes up I-35, too,” Oyler said.

In August, a Kansas City federal judge sentenced Rasheed Shakur, 43, to life in prison for his role in a multimillion-dollar dope smuggling ring that nimbly moved drugs of all types from the Southwest to Kansas City using a variety of transportation methods.  For four years, Shakur, who described himself as “the Michael Corleone of Kansas City,” paid a private pilot to fly hundreds of pounds of marijuana and up to 15 pounds of cocaine each week from Texas into Johnson County Executive Airport, said FBI agent Matthew Kenyon.  When that pipeline dried up, Shakur found new suppliers in Arizona and began simply mailing drugs to the addresses of friends and co-conspirators in Kansas City. When some of the packages never arrived, Shakur assumed that dishonest postal employees were stealing his drugs. In fact, federal agents were seizing them before delivery.

“There was a real sense of arrogance with him,” Kenyon said. “He never thought we would get on to it.”
With the mail becoming less dependable, Shakur decided to explore old-school drug running. He began negotiating the purchase of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer that he planned to lease back to an associate, who would drive the dope to Kansas City.  Shakur’s reason for the change suggests why Kansas City’s drug road could remain active for years to come.  “He felt it was safer,” Kenyon said.

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2011/11/28/3291522/kansas-city-seen-as-a-hub-for.html#ixzz1f6squNU4

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