The killing of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Mexico last week prompted U.S. law enforcement officials on Thursday to arrest more than 100 alleged Mexican drug gang members operating in American cities, The Associated Press reported.
Federal, state and local authorities, including members of the Drug Enforcement Administration, confiscated $4.5 million in cash, about 20 guns, 300 pounds of marijuana, 23 pounds of methamphetamine, 5 pounds of heroin and 107 kilos of cocaine from more than 150 locations in the Atlanta, St. Louis, Denver, Detroit, San Antonio, San Diego, Chicago and New Jersey areas.
“We are taking a stand and we are sending a message back to the cartels that we will not tolerate the murder of a U.S. agent, or any U.S. official,” Carl Pike, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division, told the AP.
ICE agent Jaime Zapata was gunned down last week while working in Mexico. Fellow agent Victor Avila Jr., who was with Zapata during the shooting, was wounded as they drove their armored Suburban with U.S. Embassy plates along a highway in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
On Wednesday, Mexican authorities arrested six members of the Zetas gang in connection with the shooting, Bloomberg reported. The suspects include leader Julian Zapata Espinoza along with Armando Alvarez, Mario Dominguez, Jesus Ivan Quezada, Martin Barcenas and Ruben Dario Venegas.
The gang allegedly shot Zapata and Avila because its members thought the agents were part of a rival gang, according to Bloomberg.
Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney praised the work of Mexican law enforcement officials.
“From the moment this tragedy occurred, our Mexican counterparts have worked closely with both the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and the law enforcement cooperation seen in this investigation thus far demonstrates how working together toward common goals serves the interests of both countries and of our citizens,” Sweeney said in a statement. “We will continue to uphold our united commitment to breaking the grip of these violent transnational criminal organizations. Here at home, we will continue to increase pressure against cartel-related activities while we also cooperate with and support our colleagues in Mexico.”
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder attended the memorial service for Zapata, paying tribute to his service.
Holder said the agent “could have chosen an easier path through life” but was drawn to public service to protect his fellow citizens and his nation.
“Agent Zapata’s story is one that we must not forget,” Holder said. “And it’s one that we won’t. He was a hero in every sense of the word, a man whose acts of valor are a testament to what is best about our country and our national – and international – law enforcement community.”
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It was big news last week in Providence, R.I., when agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration teamed up with Rhode Island state police to seize 145 pounds of cocaine and more than $1 million in cash while arresting three men believed to be linked to Mexican drug lords.
It wasn’t just big news to the people of Providence. It was big news to Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, who sits on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys. “We were unaware of this investigation,” Jim Martin, spokesman for Neronha, told the Providence Journal. “These are the types of cases we certainly would want to prioritize.”
But federal prosecutors were conspicuously absent last Thursday, when DEA agents joined state and local police and state Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin in announcing the arrests after a five-month investigation. For now, at least, it appears that the case will be prosecuted in state rather than federal court, and that puzzles some people.
“It tastes like a federal case; it smells like a federal case, given the quantity and the allegations of international and multi-state transportation of both cocaine and cash,” George J. West, a defense lawyer who works in state and federal courts, told the Journal. “These are common factors in federal cases.”
Regardless of which court system the cases lands in, it would seem that someone has some explaining to do. Whenever the Justice Department announces arrests after a long, complicated investigation, it emphasizes the wonderful teamwork within DOJ and between the DOJ and state and local agencies.
Anthony Pettigrew, spokesman for the DEA in Boston, told the newspaper his agency decided to take the case through state court based on “who was working on it at the time.” In any event, the unawareness of the U.S. Attorney’s office seems doubly surprising, given that Rhode Island is so small that everyone in government and politics is supposed to know everyone else’s business. That’s one stereotype about the state. At least, it was.
Democrats are challenging House conservatives who are calling for deep federal budget cuts to imagine what the reductions would do to parts of the Justice Department.
Rolling back federal discretionary spending to 2006 levels would mean firing 4,000 FBI agents, 1,500 Drug Enforcement Administration agents and 5,700 correctional officers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, according to Democratic estimates reported by the Washington Post.
Members of a group of House conservatives called the Republican Study Committee on Thursday said Republicans must keep their campaign pledge to immediately cut at least $100 billion from non-defense spending, which would return spending to 2008 levels. They also are demanding additional cuts to 2006 levels.
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Steven Campbell was part of a task force that raided a home in Lyndhurt. The drug suspect told agents he had a couple pounds of marijuana in a blue bag in the garage and between $45,000 and $50,000 under a dresser, Tickle the Wire reported. Campbell, along with at least one DEA agent, found the cash. Campbell began stuffing fistfuls of cash into his pockets, an act that an agent witnessed and told another agent about.
When confronted, Campbell said the only money he had was his personal money. After resisting a search, Campbell was handcuffed. Before ATF agent Ed Dabkowski could search Campbell, the cash fell out of Campbell’s pockets. It was estimated that he took more than $46,000.
The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorneys office for the Eastern District of Michigan because the the Northern District of Ohio is recused from the case.
Detriot U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said, “Just as we hold public officials accountable for wrongdoing, we hold federal agents accountable as well.”
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The Senate on Wednesday night confirmed Michele Leonhart by unanimous consent to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration after a Democratic senator announced that he had dropped his hold on the nominee.
Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin had threatened to hold up Leonhart, the acting head of the agency since November 2007, over his concerns about the DEA’s progress on addressing agency policies that he said hindered the dispensation of prescription drugs to nursing home residents. Kohl, a senior Senate Judiciary Committee member and the chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said he received assurances from Attorney General Eric Holder that the administration of President Barack Obama would work with him on legislation that would alleviate his worries, The Hill reported.
Leonhart will be the first Senate-confirmed DEA head since Karen Tandy resigned in 2007. Obama nominated her on Feb. 2, but the Senate Judiciary Committee did not report her out until Dec. 1.
Kohl’s concerns about the quick dispensation of prescription drugs to individuals in long-term care facilities predates Leonhart’s nomination.
Kohl and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote in an October 2009 letter to Holder that stepped-up efforts by the DEA to combat illegal prescription drug use have made it hard for ailing nursing home residents to get quick pain relief.
The Wisconsin senator met with Leonhart in May about his concerns on the dispensation of prescription medicine. In August, the senator asked the DEA for feedback on draft legislation that would allow nurses at nursing homes to prescribe drugs such as morphine.
Kohl pushed Leonhart to get back to him on the legislation during her nomination hearing in November. But she would not tell the senator at her hearing when he would get a response from her agency.
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, “With more than 30 years of exemplary service at the Department of Justice, I look forward to continuing to work with Michele Leonhart in her new role at the DEA.”
An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will plead guilty to stealing cash during an Oct. 18 drug raid in suburban Cleveland, Tickle the Wire reported.
Steven Campbell is scheduled to enter a guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on Dec. 22 to a theft charge stemming from the raid.
Campbell was part of a task force that raided a home in Lyndhurt, Ohio. The drug suspect told agents he had a couple pounds of marijuana in a blue bag in the garage and between $45,000 and $50,000 under a dresser, Tickle the Wire reported. Campbell, along with at least one DEA, found the cash. Campbell began stuffing fistfuls of cash into his pockets, which an agent witnessed and told another agent.
When confronted, Campbell said the only money he had was his personal money. After resisting a search, Campbell was handcuffed. Before ATF agent Ed Dabkowski could search Campbell, the cash fell out of Campbell’s pockets. It was estimated that he took well in excess of $1,000.
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Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said he intends to place a hold on Michele Leonhart’s nomination to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration, which could doom her confirmation this year.
Kohl, a senior Judiciary Committee member and the Senate Special Committee on Aging chairman, said he plans to hold up Leonhart over his concerns about agency policies on the dispensation of prescription drugs, The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog reported Wednesday.
A hold would stall the nominee that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote Wednesday. President Barack Obama would have to re-nominate her if she is not confirmed by this Congress, which is set to adjourn in the next few weeks.
Leonhart has already been waiting a long time for confirmation; she was nominated ten months ago, in February.
Kohl said he is set to place a hold on Leonhart “until we have made more progress towards our goal of ensuring that nursing home residents get timely access to the prescription drug care they need,” the Journal reported.
At Leonhart’s nomination hearing last month, the senator implored her to “work a little harder” on providing the agency’s response to draft legislation that would allow nurses at long-term care facilities to prescribe drugs such as morphine.
Leonhart has served as the acting DEA Administrator since November 2007.
Kohl and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote in an October 2009 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that stepped-up efforts by the DEA to fight illicit prescription medicine use have made it hard for ailing nursing home residents to obtain speedy pain relief.
Kohl met with Leonhart in May about his concerns on the dispensation of prescription drugs. In August, the senator asked the DEA for feedback on a draft bill that would allow nurses at long-term care facilities to prescribe drugs like morphine.
Leonhart would not tell Kohl at the hearing when he would get a response from the DEA, saying a reply would take time. But the acting DEA administrator said she anticipated that the DEA reply would be “favorable” to the senator.
The nominee said seeing to concerns on the matter is very important to her and the DEA. She said the agency has put in place temporary solutions that address some of the worries.
The DEA adopted new policies last month that authorize nurses to prescribe some drugs to individuals in long-term care facilities. But pain relief medicine such as morphine still needs a doctor’s prescription.
Kohl said Wednesday, according to the Journal, that the Justice Department is indicating that it is looking for all 50 states to make rules on the dispensation of prescription drugs.
“Every day nursing home patients continue to suffer from agonizing pain and we need an interim solution as soon as possible,” Kohl said, according to the Journal.
The DEA referred a request for comment from the Journal to the White House. The Journal said the White House is “looking into the matter.”
After a 10 month wait, Michele Leonhart’s nomination to head the Drug Enforcement Administration is moving forward.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday endorsed Leonhart by voice vote. The full Senate still must approve the presidential appointment.
President Barack Obama nominated Leonhart on Feb. 2. Leonhart has headed the Justice Department branch on an acting basis since November 2007.
The panel also approved Stacia Hylton to head the U.S. Marshals Service.
The Drug Enforcement Administration operations head is the top contender for the agency’s second highest post, Ticklethewire.com reported Wednesday.
DEA Chief of Operations Thomas Harrigan would succeed Michele Leonhart as the Justice Department agency’s deputy administrator.
Leonhart has been the deputy administrator since 2004, in addition to serving as the agency’s acting leader since 2007. President Barack Obama tapped her in February to be the presidentially appointed head of the DEA. She received the backing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Harrigan, a 23-year DEA veteran, has been the operations chief since 2008. He is the DEA administrator’s adviser on drug enforcement actions around the globe, overseeing 227 domestic offices and 82 foreign offices.
Harrigan also supervises the Aviation Division, Special Operations Division and Office of Diversion Control. Read more about him here.
Anthony Placido, DEA Chief of Intelligence, and John P. Gilbride, who leads the New York office of the DEA, also were mentioned as candidates for the post. But Placido decided to retire from the DEA, according to Ticklethewire.com.
The leader of Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday urged patience as Democratic senators expressed frustration with agency actions that they said prevent the dispensation of prescription drugs.
Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing prodded acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart to address delays in the administration of pain medication to individuals in need at nursing homes. The senators wrote in an October 2009 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that enhanced efforts by the DEA to combat illicit prescription drug use have made it difficult for ailing individuals in long-term care facilities to seek quick pain relief.
Kohl met with Leonhart in May to discuss the issue, and in August, requested feedback from the DEA on draft legislation that would allow nurses at long-term care facilities to prescribe drugs like morphine.
The DEA has yet to respond to the request from Kohl. Leonhart would not set a date for the DEA’s response, saying a reply would take time. But Leonhart said she expects the DEA feedback would be “favorable” to the senators.
Kohl said Leonhart should “work a little harder” to make some headway on the proposed bill as a stipulation for her confirmation as the presidentially appointed head of the DEA. Leonhart, the acting head of the agency since November 2007, appeared before the Senate panel as part of a hearing on her nomination to be the Senate-confirmed DEA Administrator.
“It appears that the DEA is putting paperwork before pain relief,” Kohl said.
Leonhart said addressing the concerns of the senators is extremely important to her and the DEA. She said the DEA has enacted short-term solutions that attend to some of the senators’ worries.
The DEA established new policies last month that allow nurses to prescribe some medications to individuals in nursing homes. But pain relief drugs like morphine still require a doctor’s prescription.
“We need to do more and I agree with you,” Leonhart said. “This is a serious issue.”
Whitehouse also took issue with DEA’s work on electronic prescriptions. He said there needs to be “more progress” on that matter, which he said would help modernize the health care system.
The DEA in March issued an interim rule that would allow doctors to electronically prescribe controlled painkillers, but it would still force them to keep paper copies of e-prescriptions of other drugs.
Whitehouse said the rule is a “step in the right direction.” But he said more must be done.
“I believe that the urgency of getting the United States of America onto a robust and secure health information infrastructure so that we can provide Americans with the health care system of the future is a primary national goal and of real urgency,” Whitehouse said.
Leonhart said advancing electronic prescriptions would be one of her priorities if she is confirmed.
“We share your concerns,” Leonhart said. “We think that interim rule was our way of moving forward with what we believe … will help.”