BLITZ FIGHTS DRUG TRADE
A Five-County Effort to Stop Smugglers Leads to 187 Arrests.
Busted taillights and expired license plate tabs led police to a medley of drugs and triggered 187 arrests during a five-county crackdown on smugglers.
Snohomish County has long been a pass-through on the drug pipeline between Canada and Mexico. Drug traffickers are running cocaine from the south and marijuana from the north.
Mass-produced methamphetamine from Mexico and more recently Canada has added to the burgeoning border-to-border trade.
"We know from past experience the highway system is being used to transport drugs," said Lt. John Flood with the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force. "I-5 is a significant route for smuggling, and we're only getting about one-fourth of what's going on out there. We're trying though."
Police departments in Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties recently deployed specially trained officers for a weeklong operation to bust smugglers.
The operation, funded by a federal grant, was organized by the Snohomish County task force.
While large quantities of drugs are passing through Snohomish County, some of the drugs are destined for local consumption, Flood said.
High-grade meth from foreign superlabs has largely replaced the local product, drug investigators say. The number of local labs is down, but meth use is growing, police said.
During the operation, officers stopped vehicles for traffic violations, focusing mainly along I-5. Police looked for subtle signs that the driver had more to hide than an expired license.
"You might look for 10 things and one thing catches your eye," Flood said.
Police stopped 1,138 vehicles, and about 300 of the stops turned into something more than just a traffic infraction.
Officers arrested 187 people and discovered 1 1/2 pounds of marijuana and nearly a half pound of cocaine along with an ounce of meth, six Ecstasy pills and 80 prescription pills.
They also seized two cars and about $in suspected drug money, Flood said.
"We're certainly not disappointed with the amounts. It's more than we likely would get when randomly patrolling the roads," he said.
The operation came after three major drug busts along I-5 and U.S. 2 in Snohomish County and the seizure of large quantities of cocaine and marijuana.
The most recent bust happened about a month ago, when Washington State Patrol troopers discovered almost a ton of marijuana packed in a load of plastic pipes at a weigh station near Stanwood. The dope was worth about $ million.
Cocaine is being traded almost pound-for-pound for potent "B.C. bud" marijuana grown in Canada. The value of the drugs doubles and triples as it spreads south to California and east to New York, Flood said.
"We're seeing the profits and money coming and going in both directions," said Jeffrey Eig, spokesman for the Seattle division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The traffickers are running complex operations. Drugs are being smuggled from the air and water. Vehicles with cleverly hidden compartments are concealing large loads of drugs.
"They're getting more and more sophisticated, and we're having to adjust for that," Eig said.
Smugglers are moving drugs through Snohomish County on I-5 and other highways. Some of the drugs are staying here, while the rest are passing through the county in a steady border-to-border drug trade.
February 2005: Police intercepted 372 pounds of cocaine along U.S. 2 in Monroe. The seizure was one of the biggest in state history. Douglas Spink was stopped after federal agents trailed him from Everett, where he picked up $million worth of cocaine. Spink was a runner for a large smuggling operation that swapped cocaine for potent "B.C. bud" marijuana grown in Canada.
June 2005: State Patrol troopers discovered hockey bags packed with 550 pounds of marijuana in a broken-down pickup truck along I-5 north of Marysville. The truck driver slipped away before the trooper spotted the bags, which are commonly used to transport drugs, particularly pot from Canada. The marijuana was worth about $million.
April: Nearly a ton of marijuana was found hidden inside a load of plastic pipes heading north on I-5 near Stanwood. Police believe the truck driver was unaware he was hauling million worth of dope.