The Hippo


May 29, 2020








Organized crime strike
Fed program changing police work to curb drug trafficking

By Ryan Lessard

 Major drug trafficking organizations have increased the supply of heroin and fentanyl into the state in the past two years. In response, New Hampshire’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force has created a heroin strike force to crack down on the drug dealing infrastructure.

From the top down
The goal of a drug trafficking investigation is to connect the dots from the addicts and overdose victims all the way up to the source. 
“We want to take some of the bigger cases and expand them as far as we possibly can, and that can’t always be done by a local [police] drug group or drug task force. In fact, sometimes that’s what hurt us,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jon DeLena, the head of the strike force.
And in order to do that best, the OCDETF (pronounced Oh-seh-def) heroin strike force pools the resources of federal investigators from agencies like the DEA (which leads the team), ATF and FBI as well as local police officers and state troopers.
The organized crime team has been around for more than 20 years, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Davis, the lead prosecutor of cases built by the task force. The force received additional federal funding and manpower in late 2015 with commitments secured by then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
At the time, Ayotte said the strike force was meant to “supplement and strengthen ongoing interdiction and prosecution efforts by allowing the U.S. Attorney’s Office and law enforcement to work directly together to pursue federal prosecution of high level drug traffickers.”
DeLena said too often police departments even as large as Manchester’s don’t have the resources, manpower or the ability to cross jurisdictional lines to trace the drug supply back to the major operators, most of whom are based in northern Massachusetts. And since these high level drug rings are working with guns and sizeable fortunes, the inter-agency team can pursue more serious charges.
“What we’re able to do … is hit these organizations even harder with things like complex financial investigations, which often result in financial charges and convictions. Those can add substantial time federally to a prison sentence,” Davis said.
U.S. Attorney Emily Gray Rice said that while local police are rounding up low-level dealers through programs like Granite Hammer, the state is also doing more to curb the drug supply closer to its source.
“Law enforcement involves a lot of acronyms but I think what’s important for the public to know is that in New Hampshire, federal, state and local law enforcement truly is firing on all cylinders on this issue,” Rice said.
Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard said one of the major benefits of the heroin strike force is it’s freed up resources in his and other police departments to focus more on the low-level dealers and quality-of-life issues the drug crisis tends to stir up.
Finding the source
DeLena said the heroin and fentanyl coming into New Hampshire is delivered locally by drug rings with ties to the kingpins in the Dominican Republic and is manufactured and shipped by the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.
“Through investigations, we’ve been able to determine that the Dominican-based Drug Trafficking Organizations have a tremendous stronghold on northern Massachusetts,” DeLena said.
About two years ago, investigators and prosecutors started seeing a shift in the economic model deployed by the drug traffickers operating out of Massachusetts. The quantity of drugs had ballooned and suppliers began fronting drugs for free to Granite Staters who were looking to sell them for profit or to help feed their own addiction with part of the proceeds, DeLena said. 
“As inhospitable as we are making it here, the drug trafficking organizations are doing a tremendous job at the customer service industry down there. They have collectively made a decision to treat people well,” DeLena said. “This isn’t the crack cocaine days where maybe half the time you’re going down, you’re going to get robbed. … That’s not happening down there. They’re welcoming people down there. In fact, they’ve said, ‘we’re fronting dope.’ They’re giving samples … they’re trying to encourage people to get down there.”
So now, instead of a Lawrence-based supplier driving up to New Hampshire to sell their wholesale goods, local people are driving down to Massachusetts to pick up their supply there, according to DeLena. 
“If you drove your car with New Hampshire plates to Lawrence right now and stopped at a stop sign, in all likelihood somebody will be throwing a sample of fentanyl into your car with a phone number wrapped around it,” Davis said. 
Since fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, a kilo of fentanyl is tantamount to 50 kilos of heroin.
All of this is adding up to more clusters of overdoses in New Hampshire, Davis said.  

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