After success by local and federal law enforcement in pushing out many of the pill mills wreaking havoc on West Virginia, another front continues to grow in the war on drugs — and it is right down the street at your local post office.
In a drug roundup in Southern W.Va. last week, local and federal authorities took into custody more than a dozen suspects believed to be involved in a pipeline stretching from Southern California to West Virginia. But the drugs they are accused of dealing did not come from any doctor’s office, the feds said many of these transactions were happening through the U.S. mail.
“What I’d say to that other DTO operating in Southern West Virginia, don’t think we’re not watching,” said Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern Dist. of West Virginia, at the press conference.
In the last five years, drug seizures through the U.S. Postal Service and other carriers have been on the rise. In 2017, the U.S. Postal Service seized 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs — a number that jumped to 96,000 pounds in 2018.
According to the U.S. Postal Inspector for West Virginia, Ryan Amstone, the drugs being seized consist mostly of meth, pills, and marijuana.
What people may not realize, he said, is the U.S. Postal Service has an investigative unit of its own designed to detect and catch illegal activity. “Everybody gets caught if they do it enough times.”
While shipping illegal drugs may seem like the easier route, Amstone said the penalty can be stiffer. In addition to the same charges for a dealer who completed the transaction in person, he said there is also a penalty for using a commercial facility.
Amstone said investigators work through tips from the public and law enforcement, as well as technology designed to flag illegal activity.
“A lot of these transactions occur on the dark web, where these individuals identify vendors who will sell these types of drugs.”
Amstone added “we’re not going to be able to catch everything. However, we are out there. We do exist. We do work with law enforcement partners on the state, federal, and local level to make sure the mail is secure and the traffickers are brought to justice.”
While the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from illegal search and seizure, inspectors can detain packages for a later search warrant if they have reasonable suspicion the item contains contraband.