Federal law enforcement is focusing its efforts on combating the influx of methamphetamine coming into Guam through the postal service.
Federal court documents show the regular inspection and seizures of drugs from packages that were mailed to Guam.
In the past couple of years, various law enforcement arms have seized “as much as 100 pounds,” said Michael Puralewski, Drug Enforcement Administration resident agent-in-charge.
That’s equal to a little more than 45 kilograms.
Each kilogram, Puralewski said, has about 10,000 “dosage units.”
“Meaning that’s 10,000 hits,” he said. “So we do seize that amount. That shows you that there is a drug problem.”
He called the problem “severe,” but said that isn’t meant to compare it to anywhere else.
He said that while the volume of meth in Guam isn’t on the same scale as certain parts of the mainland where law enforcement sees “seizures of thousands of pounds,” the volume that is seized “is putting the island at risk.”
Puralewski said ice appears to be the “drug of choice” on island.
“It’s putting families at risk; it’s damaging the community,” he added. “And that’s what we’re here to hopefully do, to protect the community by disrupting these organizations.”
He also noted that law enforcement’s focus isn’t just on local drug users and distributors.
The U.S. Attorney’s office has been “very successful” in bringing cases against rings that mail drugs from the U.S. mainland to Guam, he said.
Recently, three people, two of whom are from Nevada, were convicted in the District Court of Guam of a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine on the island.
Francisco C. Arias and Eder J. Cortez-Zelaya of Nevada and Corinna M. Concepcion were found guilty of involvement in a drug operation in which packages containing methamphetamine were mailed between Las Vegas and Guam.
They are scheduled to be sentenced at the beginning of March, according to Pacific Daily News files.
In addition to those three, nine other defendants were charged in the case, but signed plea agreements.
While Arias and Cortez-Zelaya were convicted of sending the drugs from the mainland, they relied on a network of people here to receive the drugs and wire money back to the mainland.
Bill Corbett, senior supervising resident agent at the FBI, said that even though many people in these cases are just “average joes” who were manipulated into participating by either wiring money or picking up packages, the government still sees them as co-conspirators in the scheme.
Addressing drugs in the postal system also is providing indications of where drugs are coming from and who’s making them.
Puralewski said while there is a “problem” with the manufacturing of drugs in Guam, it’s not as pervasive as in other jurisdictions.
“Primarily, most methamphetamine is brought in from mainland or other international locations,” he said, adding it’s not just the mail system, but also through other entry points.
He said it’s hard to determine what the proportion of drugs is that comes in from the U.S. versus international countries but that the majority is from the mainland.
Puralewski said the methamphetamine in Guam is generally manufactured by drug trafficking organizations based in Mexico.
The drugs agents see have high purity levels, indicating it isn’t an amateur hobbyist cooking alone, he said.
“The purity levels that we see are very, very high for methamphetamine,” Puralewski said.
In some cases, they’ve approached 100 percent, giving law enforcement an idea about who’s making these drugs.
“The purity levels that we see are as close to 100 percent that you can get,” he said.
In fact, he said, lab tests have shown purity levels of 100 percent, “which is obviously going to be made by real chemists with a true background with actual equipment, not something that would be locally manufactured by somebody that learned how to make meth over the Internet or something.”
With high purity, he explained, come high addiction rates.
“And when that addiction rate comes in, we then have people that need to acquire the drugs and that involves property crimes,” he added.
Inspectors have a variety of ways to recognize a suspicious package.
In an affidavit filed in federal court, a postal inspector wrote that criminals attempting to send drugs often use Express or Priority mail to allow them to keep track of their packages.
Fictitious or misspelled return addresses also are indications of suspicious packages, possibly indicating the person who filled it out doesn’t live at that address.
U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco noted many crimes, such as home invasions, break-ins and property thefts all have connections to the drug trade and drug addiction.
“There is a … ‘domino effect’ when we talk about the nature of the problem and really the scope of it,” she said.
New measures taken
The postal service has taken new measures to stem the tide of drugs coming to Guam’s shores.
In 2012, said Rafael Nunez, who is the inspector in charge at the San Francisco division of the U.S. Postal Service, the investigation arm of the service received more information that drugs were coming here in the mail.
As a result of that information, the agency adopted new methods for tackling drug trafficking.
For example, agents brought more narcotics inspectors to Guam as well as specialists who focus on analyzing crime trends.
“And for the past few years, we’ve been very successful in curtailing the amount of meth and ice that are coming onto the mainland via the mail,” Nunez said.
Nunez said they were able to make headway in arresting both the senders and recipients of drugs.
Postal service investigations were able to identify seven different drug-trafficking organizations and arrest more than 35 people for trafficking drugs through the mail.
On top of that, through what Nunez called “Operation Thin Ice,” investigators have screened over 240,000 parcels inbound and outbound.
Nunez attributed the success to partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and especially with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Guam.
The postal service is installing posters in facilities to warn people of the dangers and legal ramifications of importing drugs.
Limtiaco noted the role all law enforcement agencies and the community at large have in combating drugs.
“When we have these campaigns, these awareness campaigns, I mean it’s multifaceted,” said Limtiaco. “It is to raise awareness, to have people ask questions.”
And by doing these campaigns, she added, law enforcers are empowering the community to ask questions and find out how to seek help for those who need it and solve the island’s drug problem.