Authorities intercept drugs hidden in sandals

Police use various techniques to track drugs

November 11, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

The drug war is fought on the streets with undercover buys and corner sweeps that make the news. It's also fought with secret wiretaps and long hours of surveillance to target some of the bigger gangs in Baltimore.

The drug war is also fought at airports and through the mail with monitoring devices hidden in the bottoms of brown slip-on sandals.

This case begins in Chanmagua Esquipalas, Guatemala, travels through Miami and ends on O'Donnell Street in Southeast Baltimore.

In one way, it demonstrates the various ways smugglers try to get cocaine into Baltimore — not all narcotics are hidden in cars driven up to New York on Interstate 95. It also shows the lengths law enforcement goes to track down shipments of drugs.

In this instance, it was 4.9 kilograms, about 10 pounds, of cocaine from Central America.

Last week, Crime Scenes detailed how authorities intercept packages of suspected drugs sent through the mail. In many cases, the quantity of the drugs is small, and while the intended recipients may wind up not receiving their drugs because the packages are seized, they often don't always get arrested, either. Most of those cases involve packages sent within the United States.

But the case involving the sandals is different — an example of a mail case that ended in arrests and a large drug seizure with an overseas connection.

Authorities arrested three suspects in August and charged them in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with various federal drug charges. How police made the arrests was detailed in newly filed court papers this week seeking a judge's permission to search seized cell phones.

The search warrant applications offer a detailed glimpse into the case that started when customs officials pulled aside a package on Aug. 19 at Miami International Airport. It had been sent from Guatemala and was headed to a house on O'Donnell Street near Dundalk Avenue.

Special Agent Richard P. Federico with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wrote in court papers that the package contained household items and 20 pairs of "brown slip-on" sandals. "Because the sandals were … heavy, the officers drilled into one of the sandals and uncovered a white powdery substance that field-tested positive for cocaine," the court documents say.

The agents said in the court papers that they removed all but five grams of the cocaine and "inserted into the parcel an electronic monitoring device," which they said "alerts law enforcement officers when the parcel is opened." It does not record video or sound.

On Aug. 26, federal agents and officers with Maryland Transportation Authority Police, pretending to be letter carriers, delivered the package to the O'Donnell Street house. It took two tries before someone was home and signed for the delivery.

About six hours later, authorities said, a man and a woman arrived at the house and left with the package. They were arrested outside. The occupant of the house also was arrested. They were identified in court papers as Linard Kay Moore, Ruth Ann James and Hannah Marie Locklear.

All three have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and are being detained pending trial. The attorneys for James, William L. Welch III, and for Moore, M. Scotland Morris, declined to comment on the case. Locklear's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Authorities declined to comment on the case, but in their search warrant application for the phones, they reveal they want to know whom the suspects have been calling, presumably to help build their case and determine the extent of this alleged drug enterprise.

The court documents offer a glimpse into how the drug war is being fought in cases that aren't brought to the public's attention, mostly because they are considered routine.

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