EXCLUSIVE: Law enforcement group expresses skepticism at quoted value of seized narcotics
Hampton, Virginia police say they seized over $1.2 million in narcotics, arrested 250 people and collected over $68,000 in cash during a highly publicized, three-day reunion concert by psychedelic rock jam bad Phish. While media outlets reported that the rock band paid for the police presence, RAW STORY has found out that the force, intended for security, was nearly 200 agents strong and involved three federal agencies. Additionally, a group of former police officers who advocate for drug policy reform expressed skepticism of the narcotics' quoted value. "There were 194 concertgoers and others in the area of Hampton Coliseum charged with various misdemeanor and felony offenses — mostly possessing, using and selling drugs," reported Peter Dujardin with the Daily Press. "Some faced multiple counts, for a total of 245 charges in all." Tuesday, police revised their arrest figure from 194 to 250, said the Associated Press. "The cost of paying police officers to work the special shifts — providing traffic management as well as overall security — was borne by Phish and its promoters, said Hampton City Manager Jesse Wallace," reported the Daily Press. It is unclear exactly how much was paid to police an estimated 75,000 fans. "The Hampton Police Division had 113 officers that worked each of the three nights as well as 85 officers from the nine other agencies each of the three nights," Hampton police public information officer Corporal Allison Quiñones told RAW STORY. "That money was paid out by the band and the information would have to come from them or their promoter." Federal involvement In a release (PDF link), Hampton police thank numerous agencies for their participation in the operation, including: "Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Virginia State Police, Newport News Police Department, Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), Poquoson Police Department, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Criminal Investigations Division (CID), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) and the Hampton Sheriff’s Office."
Police also issued a special thanks to Hampton Chevrolet for allowing them to set up a temporary holding facility on their premises. A follow-up question to the Hampton police as to what, exactly, NCIS and ICE were doing at a Phish concert went unanswered. "NCIS is part of a task force such as this because of the huge Naval presence in the Hampton Roads area," said NCIS spokesman Ed Buice in an e-mail to RAW STORY. "Thousands of sailors and their families live and work there and narcotics enforcement is a large part of what we do worldwide. Not only is it a quality of life issue it's a legitimate operational readiness concern that the Navy approaches from several directions." "I'm not sure how many NCIS special agents actually took part in the task force," he added. A call to ICE's public affairs headquarters returned a new number to call and instructions to ask for the "duty officer." However, an operator claimed the duty officer has no voicemail and his phone was turned off. Repeated calls to ICE's public affairs branch for Virginia yielded 'call could not be completed' errors for the number listed on ICE's Web site: 202-514-2648. Several redial attempts resulted in an 'all circuits are busy' automated response and twice the number came back 'no longer in service.' RAW STORY held its report for a full day seeking response from Phish or management as to how much they paid for police presence at the concert and whether they were aware of federal involvement. E-mails to the curator of the band's official Web site, the band's official contact address and Red Light Management, which handles Phish's business affairs, drew no response. Fans react The vast majority of narcotics seized during the reunion concert was marijuana, according to the Hampton police. Other drugs taken up included "magic" mushrooms, cocaine and prescription painkillers.
Writers on the Phish fan forum "Oh Kee Pa" relayed reports of several arrests for nitrous oxide, with one poster relaying a story of a man caught with "as many as 15 tanks [of the substance] in his van." "[So] that could account for a lot of that money if they go on street value," opined user 'McDLT.' Nevertheless, the $1.2 million figure coming from 250 arrests, is surprisingly high. Asked for comment, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a drug policy reform lobbying group, directed RAW STORY to an episode during which Ohio police discovered "the world's most expensive marijuana." Ohio officers, having caught a motorist with 104 pounds of pot, estimated the bust to be worth $4.7 million. "[W]e're talking about an ounce that's worth $2824.51!" Scott Morgan with Stop the Drug War wrote last July. "That just blows away everything listed at High Times's market quotes section, where ounces of high-grade marijuana in Ohio last month were listed at $400." "[Cops inflating prices] is definitely something our members have encountered before," said Tom Angell, LEAP's media director. Apart from the Hampton police advisory, authorities gave no evidence to support the alleged value of the narcotics, citing to RAW STORY "an ongoing investigation." "[W]hen we got there [F]riday, we set up camp and started to make something to eat and about 20 cars in total, vans, cars, suvs, and a giant police bus, came in and raided the camp ground, a shitload of people got arrested. t scared the shit out of me," wrote 'vwdeadhead.' "[T]here were [DEA], state police, locals, drug dogs with the k-9 units. [R]eally started the weekend off bad." However, most comments on the forum seemed ambivalent to the police presence. The large majority of respondents were merely elated to have attended the Phish reunion. In a telephone interview, Hampton police Corporal Quiñones refused to provide details on any of the drug seizures, but claimed there was a single, "very large quantity of marijuana" taken during one of the busts. She refused to elaborate on the weight of the seizure or the number of people involved. On the Phish forum, another writer reported a girl's arrest in her hotel room for "a QP [quarter-pound] of nug [high-grade marijuana]." "I think there were some SERIOUS Narcs," wrote 'phunkyphresh4000.' "Police used a combination of undercover and out-in-the-open tactics, those at the scene said," reported the Daily Press. "In one case, an undercover police officer offered to sell concert tickets in return for drugs, then arrested the man who tried to buy them." "[In this] scenario presented, entrapment did not likely occur because the law enforcement officer only presented an opportunity for an individual to demonstrate that he/she was in possession of a controlled substance," Pennsylvania attorney Brian W. Carter of Goldfein and Joseph, P.C., told RAW STORY. "If the individual was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance, making an offer to exchange a concert ticket for the controlled substance would not be entrapment because the individual was in possession of the controlled substance prior to the individual being approached by the law enforcement officer," he wrote.
"I feel certain the seized drugs were overvalued, but the confiscated [$68,000 in] cash is real," opined the blog, The Impolitic. "What this means is every person they busted, whether is was for a few grams of marijuana or 3000 hits of acid, lost every cent in their pocket under the forfeiture laws. "... I doubt if most the arrests were for any kind of threatening conduct. The cops were just capitalizing on a legal moneymaking scheme. They get to keep the cash so they have a perverse incentive to make unnecessary arrests. And it's an invitation for corruption. Ending that dynamic would go a long way toward bringing some balance back into law enforcement." In 2006, Phish founder and guitarist Trey Anastasio was arrested for driving under the influence of narcotics and police allegedly found three prescription drugs in his vehicle: hydrocodone, Percocet and Xanax. Hampton police made "81 Felony arrests and 113 Misdemeanor arrests for a total of 194," stated an advisory. "There were 119 Felony charges and 126 Misdemeanor charges for a total of 245. A total of 46 criminal summonses were issued. A total street value of narcotics seized was $1,213,882.80." Several days before the concert, Phish asked a federal judge to issue an order against the sale of unlicensed band merchandise. The judge agreed, but refused to allow Phish staff the right to confiscate bootlegged goods. Free recordings of the three-day reunion are available on livephish.com. The band plans to kick off a summer tour on June 4 in Wantagh, N.Y. This story has been updated with a statement on the NCIS' involvement in the arrests and modified from an original version.