Articles Posted in Drug Offenses & Drug Trafficking

The Smoking Gun website has a brief blurb about a wheelchair-bound lady who was one of the main heroin dealers for a Florida gang!

Sweet 74-year-old Ruth Perez-Lopez was the largest heroin dealer for a local drug ring known for selling cocaine, prescription pills and marijuana.  According to the police, the lady sold her drugs in a fortified Orlando-area house featuring reinforced doors, high tech security and plenty of firearms.

Ms. Perez-Lopez was arrested after the culmination of a year-long state and federal operation.  The name?  Operation “Deals on Wheels” of course!

Perez-Lopez was arrested for heroin trafficking and conspiracy, both of which are felonies. As of this writing she is being held in the Orange County lockup in lieu of $650,000 bond.

Police are estimating that Ruth sold two kilos of heroin per month out of the Orlando home she shared with two co-defendants.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

As mentioned before, drug trafficking carries with it a “minimum mandatory” prison sentence.  This depends on the amount of the illegal narcotics but the minimum mandatory sentence ranges between three and 25 years in prison.  A “minimum mandatory” means NO parole, time off for good behavior or good gain time.  It means the prison sentence is served straight in prison.

With minimum mandatory sentences, even the judge has no power to go below them.  Only an agreed upon departure with the state attorney can reduce this sentence.  Many times the state attorney will agree to “depart” or go below the sentencing guidelines.  There are multiple reasons why the state may choose to depart.  These reasons include the defendant cooperating with the police or state, mental health issues, drug addiction, victim requests, etc.

In this case, a possible departure from the mandatory sentence may involve the suspect’s age.  A 74-year-old facing 25 years in prison is basically looking at a life sentence.  Depending on the defendant’s prior criminal history, reasons for selling drugs and possible cooperation with the police, the state attorney may agree to reduce her prison sentence considerably. Continue reading

A guest post from Maria Stefanski, who is part of a nonprofit.  The link has several interesting articles on heroin and drug abuse.  If you or someone you love is facing addiction, please get the help that is needed!

Over the past few decades, politicians, corporations, and community leaders have focused much attention and effort in an attempt to curb drunk driving. Much of this social movement can be traced back 35 years, to the establishment of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Since 1980, MADD has become one of the most widely supported and respected non-profit organizations in the U.S.

To understand the impact MADD has had on American society, some milestones are worth considering:

  • 1982
    • Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving formed
    • Bill enacted giving states federal highway funds for anti-drunk driving efforts
    • 100 MADD chapters by year-end
  • 1983
    • An NBC made-for-TV movie about MADD airs
    • 129 new anti-drunk driving laws pass by year-end
  • 1984
  • Federal 21 Minimum Drinking Age Act signed into law on July 17
  • More than 330 MADD chapters in 47 states by year-end
  • 1988
    • All states and D.C. pass federal 21 drinking age law
    • Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act signed—amendments include extending crime victim compensation rights to DUI/DWI victims and increased incentives for states enacting key DUI?DWI laws
  • 1994
    • Alcohol-related deaths drop to a 30-year low
    • Chronicle of Philanthropy survey names MADD America’s most popular charity
  • 2000
    • MADD grows to approximately 600 chapters and 2 million member/supporters
    • National .08 BAC measure (part of the Federal Transportation Appropriations Bill) signed into law Oct. 23
  • 2004
    • First Law Enforcement Leadership Council held
    • MADD testifies before Congress in the U.S. House Education Reform Subcommittee on underage drinking issues
    • All states and D.C. pass .08 BAC as the legal drunk driving limit (MADD).

The changes MADD has spearheaded rival those of any other social movement in American history. In the U.S., because of MADD, since it was founded in 1980, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Perhaps now it is time begin efforts at targeting and isolating the dangers of driving while high—that is, the dangers of driving under the influence of prescription pills, heroin and other illicit drugs.

Studies have shown that, much the same as alcohol, heroin, prescription opiates, and the class of sedatives known as benzodiazepines slow reaction time, decrease motor coordination, and cause dizziness and drowsiness—each of these factors alone increase the likelihood of accidents. At present, no measure of drug impairment (like BAC in drunk driving) has been determined to reflect exactly how much of a drug effects ones driving ability. But, because even small amounts of certain drugs can have a measurable effect, some states have zero tolerance laws for drugged driving: if there is any amount of drug in the blood or urine of a driver in these states, the driver can face charges for driving under the influence (DUI). Some drugged driving detection techniques used by law enforcement include testing drivers identified as impaired who do not have a BAC exceeding the legal limit and employing Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) at roadside checkpoints (Stop Drugged Driving). While the prevalence rates of drugged driving are difficult to determine because of this lack of specific legal limit for BAC, the following data clearly illustrates a need for further, and prompt, research and action:

In 2013, 9.9 million persons, or 3.8 percent of the population aged 12 or older, reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year. This rate was lower than the rate in 2002 (4.7 percent), but was similar to the rate in 2012 (3.9 percent). Across age groups, the rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs in 2013 was highest among young adults aged 18 to 25 (10.6 percent); this rate for young adults was lower than the rate in 2012 (11.9 percent). Additionally, the rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased from 2.3 percent in 2012 to 1.9 percent in 2013 (SAMHSA 2014).

Just as it is difficult to accurately determine the prevalence of drugged driving, determining the number of accidents caused by drugged driving offers a similar challenge. A few reasons for this challenge include: a) a good roadside test (like the breathalyzer test for alcohol) for drug levels in the body does not yet exist. b) people are not usually tested for drugs if they are above the legal limit for alcohol because there is already enough evidence for a DUI charge. c) many drivers who cause accidents are found to have both drugs and alcohol or more than one drug in their system, making it hard to know what substance had the greater effect (NIH, 2015).

The problem, and dangers, of drugged driving are most apparent within the teen/young adult portion of the population. According to data presented by Teen Driver Source (2015), putting aside the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among adolescents and the greatest lifetime chance of crashing occurs during the first six months after obtaining a driver’s license. While distractions, following too closely, and an overall underestimation of the dangerousness of a situation are commonly cited factors in teen crashes, add drugs to the equation and it’s a recipe for disaster. For example:

A study of college students with access to a car found that 1 in 6 (about 17 percent) had driven under the influence of a drug other than alcohol at least once in the past year. Of those students, 57 to 67 percent did so at least three times and 27 to 37 percent at least 10 times. Marijuana was the most common drug used, followed by cocaine Continue reading

A quick blurb from the Miami Herald about the federal government stepping up their efforts to curb synthetic marijuana.  Also known as “spice”, this drug is potentially deadly.  What makes it so dangerous is the unknown chemical mixtures that are added, sometimes at random.  As there is no purity and no set recipe, “spice” has already been implicated in dozens of hospitalizations and even deaths in Florida.  Now the feds may be striking back…

Last week, ten men were charged with conspiracy for their roles in manufacturing synthetic marijuana, some of it laced with dangerous or deadly chemicals.  Their plan?  To distribute the drug throughout New York City.

Known as “spice” or K2, this drug is smoked like normal pot.  As mentioned above, hospitals nationwide are seeing the results of bad “spice”.  There has been a large uptick in emergency room visits because of bad reactions to this drug.  Victims are suffering from hallucinations, psychotic episodes and even heart problems.

In this case, the federal indictment came from a yearlong investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  The indictment claims the defendants were importing large amounts of illegal synthetic ingredients from China.  This included a mix of chemicals that are illegal in the United States.  The defendants were mixing the chemicals with tea leaves and selling them for only $5 a packet.  Using brand names such as “Green Giant”, “Psycho” and “AK-47”, the defendants were doing a brisk business, selling them in head shops and convenience stores.

While the men were being arrested, agents were simultaneously raiding businesses and warehouses that were suspected of making and/or selling the “spice”.  Agents seized 275,000 of the K2 packets (valued at $30 million!) and  over 450 pounds of chemicals used to make the product.

In New York alone, there were over 1,100 emergency room visits per month as a result of synthetic marijuana.   Poison control centers calls about this drug were up over 225 percent over 2014 calls.  Will this federal crackdown help?  It is a good start.  From the ten defendants named, four are currently fugitives and six have already appeared in a Manhattan federal court.

When marijuana is being decriminalized in so many states, why the uptick in this synthetic drug that is proven to be so dangerous?  Experts don’t know for sure but think that the low price and easy availability in most cities make it a “go to” drug for both poor addicts and bored suburban teens alike. Continue reading

From the Tampa Bay Times, a wanted fugitive finds out the hard way not to mess with the Pinellas Park K9 unit…

25-year-old John Hagin was a wanted fugitive out of Georgia. According to the Pinellas Park police, he had a warrant for possession of meth. Police were called out to a motel on US 19 for a domestic battery call. Hagin had already left the area but his troubles were just beginning.

Police found him walking nearby. When the suspect saw law enforcement, he fled into a nearby park. The police sent their K9 after him. What occurred next is unclear but either the dog bit Hagin first or Hagin punched the K9. The police dog was not injured.

As for the fugitive? He was arrested and taken to a local hospital. Besides his Georgia warrant, he was also charged with resisting arrest, domestic battery by strangulation and assaulting a police dog. As of this writing, he is still sitting in Pinellas County jail.
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This past Tuesday, America went to the polls. In Pinellas County and throughout Florida, amendment two was on the ballot. This allowed for the legalization of medical marijuana. Supporters claimed it was compassionate and the right thing to do. Opponents said it was full of loopholes and was a backdoor to legalization. As it was a constitutional amendment it needed 60% support to pass. It fell short at just over 57%.

While the TampaBay Times did not support this amendment, it did a series of articles showing both positive and negative aspects of marijuana legalization. While we wait for 2016 and perhaps another try, individual human stories often don’t get told.

For Pasco jail inmate Amanda Gould, it was another day, another violation of probation. She had already spent 60 days in jail for her VOP. She felt confident that the judge would release her.

Two months prior, Ms. Gould had violated her DUI probation for failing a drug screen by smoking marijuana.

On her court date, the probation officer recommended she continue on probation. The judge examined her medical records and disagreed. He saw her extensive drug history (both prescription and non-prescription) and thought her staying on probation was a waste of time and taxpayer money.

Her criminal defense lawyer disagreed. He claimed that she was chronically ill and all her drug use was related to her sickness. The lawyer even argued that her marijuana use was part of her self medication. Her attorney further argued that she would be a prime candidate for medical marijuana.

The judge disagreed and was looking at sending her to prison (confinement for over a year).

Doctors have diagnosed 36-year-old Ms.Gould with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, Sjogren’s syndrome and two dozen more illnesses. She has been prescribed oxycodone and other addictive drugs. These prescriptions caused her to throw up and changed her personality. When she found marijuana, she noticed no side effects.

She was doing fine until she picked up a driving under the influence charge six years ago. She was pulled over, found to be drinking and had a zanax pill in her pocket. She was charged with DUI, possession of marijuana, possession of a controlled substance and introduction of contraband into a detention facility (a third-degree felony).

Due in part to her medications and her illnesses, she was not found competent to stand trial until 2013. She accepted a plea bargain of two year’s probation, and 50 community service hours for the DUI and marijuana possession.

Her health continued to deteriorate. She was now on more medications and often confined to a wheelchair. Due to her drug screens, she was no longer allowed to smoke marijuana.

One night, she felt extra sick and smoked a joint. Her drug tests came up positive and her probation was violated. For most probation violations in Pinellas, your bond is revoked and you sit in jail until your court date.

Ms. Gould was not an exception, sitting in jail all this time. She tried to stay positive and was happy that jail made her kick her prescription drug addiction. She also started thinking of moving to Colorado, where marijuana is legal.

A few days after this article was first published, the court heard her case and decided to keep her on probation. The judge gave her one year of drug offender probation with the condition of NO prescription drugs or marijuana.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

While everything appeared to have worked out for Ms. Gould in this particular case, she was very fortunate. There is no marijuana legalization coming until at least 2016.

Possession of marijuana, found under Florida statute 893.13, is a first-degree misdemeanor. This means that she can be sent to jail or put on probation for up to 12 months.

Prescription pill offenses, found under the same Florida statute number, are considered third-degree felonies. Those pills, if no prescription, are considered the same as cocaine or heroin under Florida law.

A third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years prison or probation in Florida.
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It is an accepted fact that prescription pill abuse is a major problem in Florida. There have been articles mentioning pill mills and talk that cracking down on them has helped fuel the rise of heroin in Florida. Now a great article in the Tampa Bay Times website talks about a growing backlash amongst doctors about “too strict” regulations that are affecting their ability to prescribe these pills to the patients who most need them…

A Tampa doctor who once led the fight to curtail prescription drug abuse and the fatal overdoses that resulted from it, is now on a new crusade. He is wanting to increase the access to the same drugs he once fought to reduce.

Despite an almost 25% decline in prescription pill “OD” deaths in just the past few years, Tampa Dr. Rafael Miguel is now hoping to loosen the same laws he once championed. The reason? Too many pharmacies are now refusing to fill the prescriptions or even questioning the medical professionals as to the necessity of the drugs.

Thanks to the efforts of Doctor Miguel and others like him, the DEA began to fine drug companies and pharmacies for not questioning certain prescriptions. Of course, this has resulted in increased scrutiny towards these prescriptions, even if medically necessary.

This has led to tension between the doctors and pharmacies. The AMA (American Medical Association) has warned pharmacies about refusing to fill prescriptions. Major pharmacies such as Walmart and others have pointed out that they have a duty to exercise care. Said a CVS spokesman “As health care providers on the front lines of health care delivery, our pharmacists use their professional judgment and consider a variety of factors when determining whether a prescription for a controlled substance was issued for a legitimate purpose, which is part of their professional responsibility under state and federal law”.

WHile the two groups are arguing, it is the patients that are paying the price. There are horror stories about people with legitimate prescriptions that are being refused service. Stores are using various excuses, such as claiming doctor shopping or that an injured patient lives too far away from the pharmacy.

Now even a Doctor that helped Pinellas County draft an ordinance reducing pill mills thinks things have gotten out of hand. Watching some of her patients who suffer from cancer or severe spinal conditions bounce from pharmacy to pharmacy without success.

“It’s crazy,” said Dr. Lynne Columbus, the Clearwater doctor who drafted the ordinance. “It’s gone way too far to the other side.”

Still pharmacies may not be backing down. After Walgreens was hit with an 80 million dollar fine from the DEA for letting oxycodone hit the black market, other pharmacies became even stricter. After a few CVS pharmacies in Florida had their license revoked, many stores stopped carrying controlled substances or kept them in limited amounts.

Now many innocent patients are suffering in pain and unable to get relief.

According to local pharmacist Larry Golbolm, in Florida, pharmacists do not need to justify refusing to fill a prescription. “Pharmacists did not go to school for at least six years to be drug dealers for the highly suspect ‘profession’ called ‘pain management,’ ” he said. “The ruse on pain management is fully understood by the majority of pharmacists, especially at the chain establishments.”

This “war” between reducing prescription pill addiction and helping legitimate patients has produced a few casualties, including a Pinellas woman who committed suicide rather then face her pain after she was unable to get her prescriptions filled.

In another example a late-stage lung cancer patient elected to enter a hospice instead after she was unable to get her prescription filled.

Per Trinity Pain Center owner Christopher Wittmann “If she underwent chemotherapy, she may actually have been able to extend her life by a year, but the option of having a year and being in miserable pain or living two to three months but having her pain controlled was her choice, because there was no guarantee that we could control her pain.”

Another unintended consequence of this crackdown is legitimate patients afraid to talk about their medicine and medical condition as they fear looking like drug addicts. Many patients feel defensive even talking about it.

Is there an answer? Unfortunately corporations, like people, respond to consequences. If a company runs the risk of a large fine or even being shut down, they tend to err on the side of caution. This results in many innocent people being put through unnecessary pain and suffering because they cannot get their prescription pills. Now, many of the same doctors who championed stiffer laws to control these substances are surprised that pharmacies are hesitant to fill their prescriptions. Until Pinellas County finds a “third way” between public safety and patient’s rights, we will continue to see both prescription pill abuse and innocents suffering.
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From BayNews9, a local mobile home park was the scene of several arrests involving drugs.

After months of complaints about drug sales from local park residences, the Pinellas Park police department finally struck back. A monthlong police investigation netted seven arrests at Palm Village Mobile Home park on 66th street.

Among the multiple arrests were charges for outstanding warrants, sale of oxycodone and possession of marijuana among others.

Those arrested were six men, one woman, ranging in age from 28-46.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

A possession of marijuana charge is a first-degree misdemeanor, found under Florida statute 893.13. It is punishable by up to one year in county jail and if one was to be convicted of the charge, the person loses their driver’s license for two years!

A sale of a controlled substance such as prescription pills obviously carries a much harsher sentence. While under the same statute, it is a second-degree felony, with an automatic ajudication of guilt and a maximum sentence of 15 years in state prison!

Depending on the defendant’s lifestyle, priors and the facts of the individual arrests, a defendant may be able to resolve his/her case with probation or even drug court.
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A brief blurb from CBS news about a modern day “Scarface” who had a drug empire online and how it unraveled…

Cornelis Jan “SuperTrips” Slomp, a 23-year-old Dutchman, almost had it all. Great wealth, easy job and travels around the world. Then came his arrest in Miami, Florida. Young and tattooed, Slomp had rented a Lamborghini and was ready to explore South Beach’s party scene when he was arrested by the feds at Miami International Airport last year.

Now the one-time world’s biggest online drug dealer just pled guilty to Federal drug charges in Chicago- a plea that may see him serve up to 15 years in prison. In making his “guilty” plea, Cornelis admitted that he was the main drug trafficker on the underground website “Silkroad”. Speaking perfect english, the defendant pled “guilty” and agreed to cooperate with the prosecutors as part of his plea. It was a long fall for the college educated former software engineer.

With a business sense older then his 23 years, the defendant earned more than three million dollars in bitcoins by selling a variety of drugs such as cocaine, LSD and MDMA.

An assistant U.S. Attorney on Thursday called Slomp’s conviction the largest yet in the feds battle against Silk Road traders.

“Mr. Slomp was the world’s largest drug dealer on Silk Road,” he told the presiding U.S. District Judge.

Using the online moniker “SuperTrips” Cornelis admitted to shipping 4 kilos of cocaine, 566,000 ecstasy pills and over 100 kilos of MDMA among other drugs through the mail. Using a computer and his smartphone, he would take orders online, receive payments in “bitcoins” and then mail back the drugs to throngs of customers throughout the world.

Much like the character Walt from “Breaking Bad”, the Dutchman became known for a distinguished mark on his ecstasy pills…a green question mark. On Silk Road, where anonymous traders sold illegal drugs and other illicit products, he quickly became the main dealer. At the time of his arrest, there were rumors that he was selling his U.S. drug business to a fellow “Silk Roader” man online.
As per his agreement with the feds, the defendant has already started to cooperate. He has surrendered over $3 million in bitcoins as well as promised to cooperate in the prosecution of fellow drug dealers.

As of October, 2013 Silk Road has been shut down followed the arrest in San Francisco of its alleged founder Ross William Ulbricht — who allegedly went by “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Roberts is accused in a New York federal court case of drug trafficking, soliciting murder, facilitating computer hacking and money laundering among other charges.
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From the BayNews 9 website, 10 men were arrested for operating a synthetic marijuana ring…

An almost year-long investigation involving nine states culminated with the arrests of 10 people in what police called “Operation Spice King”. The suspects were arrested in Pinellas County.

Police claimed that the suspects were manufacturing the synthetic marijuana in multiple locations throughout Pinellas County. The men were also accused of selling the product in various convenience stores in St. Petersburg.

The investigation began in June 2013 when police received a tip that one of the men was distributing synthetic marijuana around Tampa Bay and the United States.

An undercover operation began and drugs were bought. The purchased synthetic marijuana contained a substance that was banned in Florida. Other packages were soon seized and they too contained the banned substance.

Eventually detectives found all the remaining suspects, all of whom they said were working under two men. Those suspects were involved in the manufacture and distribution of the synthetic drugs in two public storage facilities and two private residences, per the police report.

Between 2011 and 2014 police state the suspects shipped almost 1000 units of the synthetic marijuana throughout the country.

The following suspects were arrested in Pinellas County:

Pyarali Shamsuddin Heerani, 48, of Tampa Charged with conspiracy to distribute synthetic cannabinoids
Shamir Sultanali Nathani, 32, of Holiday Charged with two counts of conspiracy to distribute synthetic cannabinoids and violation of RICO

Dadhichi Naik, 37, of Largo Charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering
Hasnain Brohi, 26, of Houston Charged with conspiracy to distribute synthetic cannabinoids

Farkunda Akhtar, 21, of Houston Charged with of possession of synthetic cannabinoids with intent to sell
Hurara Hassan, 33, of Houston Charged with possession of controlled substance with intent to sell/manufacture/distribute
Akber Ghazanfer, 33, of Houston Charged with possession of marijuana and possession of controlled substance with intent to sell
Sheraz Khowaja, 26, of Houston Charged with possession of controlled substance with intent to sell

Trudy Nathani, 46, of Holiday Charged with own/operating a residence for manufacturing narcotics
Joanel Volcin, 35, of St. Petersburg
Charged with possession of controlled substance

Pyarali Heerani bonded out of Pinellas County Jail but then picked up new RICO charges which means he is considered a fugitive at this time.

The Office of Statewide Prosecution, the DEA and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office all contributed in this joint investigation.
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We have previously blogged about college players getting arrested for a dui, then a former Bucs’ player for domestic battery. Now a current Tampa Bay player, Akeem Spence, gets his turn via an article in the Tampa Bay Times.

The rookie defensive lineman was pulled over on a traffic stop in Alabama and arrested for possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia.

Police pulled Akeem over for speeding over 100mph. Per reports, the rookie, who finished with over two dozen tackles and a sack, was cooperative. He was charged with a personal use amount and released on $3,000.00 bond.

When asked for comment, new Tampa Bay Bucs’ coach Lovie Smith was not pleased. He released a statement that read in part:
“We will wait to get all the facts, but the initial reports are concerning and disappointing…” “I have spoken with Akeem and expressed my dissatisfaction with his involvement in this situation. As a member of the Buccaneers, he will be held to the high standards we have set for all members of this organization.”

LEGAL ANALYSIS
Despite recent changes in certain states such as Colorado, marijuana is still very illegal in Florida. Found under Florida statute 893.13, a small amount of marijuana is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in the county jail, probation and/or a large fine. If one is convicted of a marijuana or controlled substance charge, your driver’s license is suspended for two years! There is no license suspension for drug paraphernalia, however the rest of the potential punishment remains.
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