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U.S. mail system a “safe” way to ship marijuana?

Shipping drugs through the U.S. mail system

Shipping drugs through the U.S. mail system

MILWAUKEE (WITI) — A lot of crazy things have happened under the “Golden Arches” recently.

In April, a topless mom trashed a McDonald’s in Florida, even pausing her rampage to guzzle some soft serve out of the ice cream machine.

In Norway one man w

as ‘lovin’ it’ so much he branded himself with a McDonald’s receipt.

Back in Milwaukee, a man from Whitefish Bay named Ed Patterson said he just wanted to follow in his family’s footsteps. So, early last year, he bought his neighborhood McDonald’s — the same store his father had owned when he was just a boy.

In 2012 the Drug Enforcement Administration started investigating what they would later call the Patterson Drug Trafficking Organization.

Patterson operated three McDonald’s restaurants in Fox Point, Mequon, and Glendale. Federal authorities say he used his fast food empire to launder drug money and conceal his most lucrative business: marijuana.

Patterson and his buddies were arrested last fall, and the criminal complaint that followed shows how he was able to use the United States Postal Service to ship hundreds of thousand of dollars of pot from Mendocino County, California to Wisconsin.

“The price usually doubles or triples once it goes from there to here to Wisconsin,” says Jeffrey Zientek, a canine handler for the West Allis Police Department.

An informant told police Patterson had decided to start what he called the “mail thing” after some of his crew had been pulled over with weed in their cars on their way back from California.

“People are now more afraid to transport it by ground,” Zientek says.

So Patterson started mailing the pot home for about $10 a pound. Because the parcels couldn’t be too heavy, he’d only put a few pounds of pot in each package. During the Fall of 2012, he was allegedly shipping nearly 60 pounds a month, or roughly $250,000 worth of weed — for the cost of postage.

“You are playing the odds. Yes, you might get away with it one or two times, but you will eventually get caught,” Zientek says.

Zientek and his dog, Sonny, help law enforcement agencies all over Southeast Wisconsin try to weed out packages full of, well, weed.

‘The wackiest is somebody taking duct tape, silver duct tape, and taping their box together from California or something,” he says.

“And the box literally without even going near it with a canine you can smell the narcotic seeping through the box itself.”

He says shipping drugs through the mail is probably safer than it should be. For one, law enforcement doesn’t have the resources to try to figure out where the drugs came from and who’s expecting them.

“It takes a lot of man hours to figure something like that out,” he explains.

So if it’s not an easy case to crack, he says, local law enforcement agencies just seize the package and move on. Nobody gets arrested and nobody gets the drugs.

In April, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska called Attorney General Eric Holder to task on the issue during budget meetings.

“We are being beat on these issues and the impact to our communities again, utilizing legal processes to get these drugs in that are in many cases wiping out families. We need some assistance here,” she said.

“The drugs are coming into the community through the mails.”

The Attorney General agreed, but didn’t offer a solution.

“It is shocking to see the amount of drugs that get pumped into communities all around this country through our mail system,” Holder said.

“We have to deal with that. It’s a major problem that we have to deal with.”

But it’s unclear how it’s currently being dealt with. For example, the FOX6 investigators have collected dozens of search warrants. In all of the cases, it was found, police officers got permission to search suspicious packages and drugs were in fact found inside.

But a search of state and federal records shows no arrests were made in connection with the packages. The boxes were opened, and the drugs were found, but it seems nobody got in trouble. If drugs are shipped through the U.S. mail, as opposed to a private courier, a federal search warrant is required before a package can be opened.

“We are doing all we can to make sure the mail is safe,” says U.S. Postal Inspector Brian Haraway.

He says the Postal Service knows the mail is being used to transport all kinds of drugs, but they don’t know how often people are being caught.

In 2013 U.S. Postal Inspectors seized about 9,000 packages of marijuana that had been sent in the mail. That’s 20 % more than the year before.

But Haraway says there’s no way of telling how much pot actually made it through safely.

Patterson and his crew were never caught on video at any mail facilities, but investigators say records show that between April 2012 and September 2013, at least 35 packages of marijuana were shipped from California to Milwaukee by U.S. Express Mail. The return addresses were imaginary.

According to the criminal complaint,

Patterson said he wanted to make a $2 million profit before marijuana becomes legalized nationally.

And with the help of the United States Postal System, federal investigators say he was able to successfully ship somewhere between 200 and 800 pounds of marijuana before getting caught — easily a $1 million dollar business.

“Eventually you will get caught. If you send once or twice and get lucky, but the famous saying is ‘they have to get lucky all the time and law enforcement only has to get lucky once,'” Zientek says.

Patterson’s trial was supposed to start May 5, but it’s postponed so the parties can reach a plea deal.

U.S. mail system a “safe” way to ship marijuana? Shipping drugs through the U.S. mail system Shipping drugs through the U.S. mail system MILWAUKEE (WITI) — A lot of crazy things have

How do you stop people from mailing weed illegally? Local law enforcement is trying to figure it out

CINCINNATI — Ricky Lee Harris Germany delivered mail. He drove city U.S. Post Office Route 7 in Columbus for five years.

Then, a lunch habit bit him.

In September of 2018, an anonymous tip to U.S Postal Inspectors claimed Germany stole over 100 pounds of weed out of the mail over a six month period.

The unidentified person, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court, said Germany spent lunch breaks checking large parcels, mostly from California, for drugs. If he found marijuana or methamphetamine, Germany took them home, where a contact allegedly took the drugs to sell and split money with Germany.

Germany told postal inspectors his primary parcel target was marijuana.

He pled guilty in September 2019 to possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.

The WCPO 9 I-Team examined court records that show police agencies seize varying quantities of marijuana products shipped to the Tri-State nearly every month.

In 2012, former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson pled guilty after accepting a two-pound shipment of marijuana at his Kentucky home.

But that is old-school.

“Vaping is huge in the United States right now,” said E.R. Beach, owner of Hemptations. He has stores in Northside, O’Bryonville and Sharonville that sell CBD and hemp products. “It’s a new trend in cannabis, period. You can go out in public with them and no one knows. It’s a lot easier to hide your consumption with a THC vape cartridge.”

E. R. Beach, owner of Hemptations

Vape oil, whether it’s used with THC or nicotine, is flavored and, when heated, the vapor and smell is no different than other vape products, Beach and law enforcement officers said.

Beach sells hemp clothes, paper, plastic and food in his stores. He does not receive marijuana through the mail. But, when you work 25 years in his industry, you hear things, Beach said.

“Our medical marijuana program charges almost $500 (an ounce) for medicine, where you can get it shipped from Colorado probably for $250 a (ounce),” he said.

The Postal Service said in a statement it has “no interest in being the unwitting accomplice” to anyone distributing illegal drugs or paraphernalia in the mail. Inspectors, though, admit to seizing thousands of drug shipments and have a standing $50,000 reward for information about drugs or drug payments going through the mail.

“Our objectives are to rid the mail of illicit drug trafficking and the associated violence, preserve the integrity of the mail, and, most importantly, provide a safe environment for postal employees and Postal Service customers – the American public,” Kathryn Woliung, U.S. postal inspector and team leader public information officer said in a statement.

Kilos of THC vape cartridges seized

Last October, the Butler County Regional Narcotics Task Force intercepted a shipment of 952 vape cartridges, seven pounds of marijuana and THC disguised as lip balm, tootsie rolls, cannabis syrup and gummies packaged in birthday gift wrapping paper.

Records of executed search warrants made public show postal inspectors seized more than 38 kilograms of THC vape cartridges that same month in Milford. The package came from Montebello, California, through Priority Mail.

That same day, postal inspectors caught a priority mail shipment from Laguna Hills, California, to Oxford. It contained 1.5 kilos of THC vape cartridges and brown wax suspected to be THC wax.

A third seizure that found almost 24 kilos of THC vape cartridges was sent priority mail from La Mesa, California, to Hamilton.

“I really didn’t see them except for the last year or two,” Chris Coners, director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force, said. “Now, we’re seeing them in the thousands. We’re seizing thousands of them.”

Chris Coners, Director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force.

Coners said marijuana seizures in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties are smaller than the 300- to 500-pound hauls cops used to get in the ’90s.

What they seize now, though, is three times more expensive, he said. With THC potency near 80 percent in everything they seize, Coners thinks he knows the source.

“Nowadays we are receiving marijuana in this area that comes from those states, predominantly in the west: California, Washington, Oregon (and) Colorado,” Coners said. Recreational marijuana is legal in those states, plus eight others.

Leftovers lawsuit

The WCPO 9 I-Team asked for harvest and inventory data from the four states Coners named.

An email from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board claims it does not “not have any way to answer” our questions.

A spokesperson for the California Cannabis Control Board first said “the state does not track that data.” Then, the California Department of Food and Agriculture told us “all of that data is confidential.”

Oregon and Colorado post numbers online.

In 2017, Colorado reported 26 percent of legally grown marijuana flower and buds went unsold. A year later, the figure rose to 29 percent. The state had only partial stats for 2019.

Oregon’s February inventory had 1.3 million pounds of useable, edible and marijuana concentrate. That is double what growers sold in the previous 12 months.

Growers in that state are supposed to destroy leftovers. So the onus is on police to prove any part of legal crops illegally land in the Tri-State.

“We do interviews,” Coners said. “We use other resources to determine the source of whatever we seized. Not always, but we often do find out where it originates whether or not we can put a case on those locations or people. The truth is a lot of it does get through, obviously.”

The National Police Foundation claims marijuana overproduction “has created issues for bordering states.”

In 2014, Oklahoma and Nebraska sued Colorado. The two states claimed flows of black market marijuana from Colorado “undermined their drug bans, drained treasuries and stressed criminal justice systems.”

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear that lawsuit.

Whatever rules or laws Kentucky passes, Coners’ team will enforce them, he said. He is also certain that drug smugglers will still try to deal by car, plane, train or parcel.

“The challenge hasn’t changed,” Coners said. “They’re trying not to get caught and our job is to figure out who is legally involved.”

The WCPO 9 I-Team examined court records that show police agencies seize varying quantities of marijuana products shipped to the Tri-State nearly every month.