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Justice Dept., DEA Announce Dismantled of Major Heroin Operation in U.S.

Aired June 15, 2000 - 3:03 p.m. ET


BOBBIE BATTISTA, CNN ANCHOR: We have to go to the attorney general here at the Justice Department, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration is holding a news conference about a heroin bust.


JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... organization. The investigation known as Operation Tar Pit focused on a group that we believe has put millions of dollars worth of high purity black tar heroin on the streets of at least 12 cities in this country. Our operation has been a great success. Throughout the day, federal, state and local authorities have apprehended nearly 200 individuals in cities across the country, where we believe this organization has plied its deadly trade. As a result, we believe we have dismantled a maybe heroin trafficking organization operating in the country.

Operation Tar Pit grew out of a San Diego investigation that began in June 1998 that revealed a single trafficking organization was the source of much of the high-purity black tar heroin in the area and in several other cities.

Investigators also determined that the organization targeted by San Diego had previously been the subject of an investigation in New Mexico in 1998.

That investigation also linked the organization to numerous heroin overdose deaths in the small town of Chamiyo, New Mexico. Between 1995 and 1998, approximately 85 deaths in Chamiyo were attributed to high purity black tar heroin. This organization operated in a dangerously efficient manner. Despite substantial seizures of drugs and the arrest of cell members, this organization demonstrated an ability to adapt to increased pressure from law enforcement.

It did so by establishing distribution cells in large- and medium-sized cities across the country. Not only did members of the organization exhibit disregard for the law, but their pedaling of this powerful and addictive drug showed an even greater disregard for human life. This operation is a classic illustration of how drug law enforcement works best.

Federal law enforcement agencies working cooperatively, one with the other, and with state and local authorities, and law enforcement efforts working in combination with prevention and treatment initiatives in the community. I'd like to thank and recognize the leadership of DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall, and FBI assistant director, Rubin Garcia (ph), as well as the law enforcement partners, whose cooperation led to the success of Operation Tar Pit. This included the DEA, the FBI, the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney's offices conducting the investigation, and the multi-agency Special Operations Division.

I would also like to recognize and personally thank the important service that Senator Peter Domenici provided early on in focusing attention on the harm suffered by communities in his state, and the thoughtful and positive way in which he supported this initiative. The impact of law enforcement's work on this operation is significant, resulting in the seizure of potentially lethal heroin bound for streets and neighborhoods across the United States. And most of all, I'd like to thank the agents involved. They have done great work and we salute them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Attorney General.

Now I'd like to turn the podium over to Mr. Donnie R. Marshall, DEA administrator.

DONNIE MARSHALL, DEA ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you, Terry, and thank you, Attorney General, for your comments. Good afternoon and welcome to DEA headquarters.

As the attorney general said, we're here to announce the conclusion of Operation Tar Pit, which was a very successful, approximately one-year-long operation. And I believe that this operation has some significant implications, not only for law enforcement, but for our country as a whole. We're going to present a detailed briefing which will give you the highlights of this operation immediately following our comments here on the stage. I want to especially thank Attorney General Reno and FBI assistant director Garcia for your cooperation, your support, and for appearing here with us this morning -- this afternoon.

Now, I'm really proud to announce that we have concluded this investigation with the arrest today of over 160 individuals in 12 cities across the United States. This brings the total arrests during this year-long operation to over 225, and seizures of over 60 pounds of heroin. Now, these individuals were operatives of a major international heroin trafficking organization that was operating virtually throughout this country.

Now, to many Americans, I think, over the last couple of decades, the image of a down-and-out heroin addict and the national consciousness even of heroin as a drug of abuse has kind of faded into history. But this operation, I think, shows that heroin has reemerged in our society really with a vengeance. It's stronger than ever before. It's cheaper than ever before. It's more potent and more deadly than ever before in our country.

And this small rural town of Chimayo, which the attorney general referred to, a town in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, learned firsthand and very graphically about the deadly return of this dangerous drug. The high purity black tar heroin that was supplied by this organization that we targeted during Operation Tar Pit was also supplying the heroin to Chimayo, New Mexico that resulted in those 85 overdose deaths between 1995 an 1998.

In fact, it was our experience in Chimayo, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, that alerted us that this could be a nationwide problem and it led us to take a much closer look at the black tar heroin problem in this country. Now, with the coordinated efforts of the DEA, the FBI, and the Department of Justice criminal division and many dedicated state and local police agencies as well, this morning we successfully wiped out this entire national heroin trafficking organization.

We dismantled them from top to bottom, from their smuggling operation to their wholesale distribution sales, and all the way down to street level dealers in many American neighborhoods.

BATTISTA: The Justice Department and the DEA, along with FBI, announcing today that they have dismantled a major heroin operation in this country with 200 arrests across the nation.

Let's go quickly to CNN's national correspondent Bob Franken now for more on this -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bobbie. this is part of Operation Tar Pit. They call it -- name after the very, very dangerously potent Mexican heroin. Tar, which has been a -- been around for several months now, but this was an operation, as we just heard, that began in 1998 in San Diego but really was focused on a small town in New Mexico, Chamiyo, where 85 people died from overdoses.

Attorney General Janet Reno spoke a moment ago about the cynicism that was involved in all of this and one of the things that we were told on background is that one of the ways that they would sell this so easily is that the people who were distributing this on the street level would go to methadone clinics, methadone, of course, the treatment for people who are heroin addicts. But they would actually then entice them back into using heroine with this extremely potent source of it.

And it has been a problem for quite some time with the greater purity of heroine that is in the United States. People are dying from drug overdoses to a degree that had not been experienced in the past.

You can see some of the video that was provided by surveillance tapes, the Justice Department has released, some tape that shows purchases that were being made, shows some of the material that was confiscated over this period of time. They considered this a significant law enforcement action. Over 200 people arrested in the year-long investigation, 160 today.

This is a big, big move in the war against drugs. The Justice Department says that they have, as a result, really gone a long way toward drying up the Mexican tar market in the United States. BATTISTA: All right, Bob Franken thanks very much.

And we will take a break here and continue with TALKBACK in just a moment. Our topic today is the apparent lapse in security at Los Alamos National Laboratory.



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