Massachusetts ranks 4th in the nation for incoming shipments of cocaine seized by the U.S. Postal Service.
That’s according to 25 Investigates’ analysis of U.S. Postal Inspection Service data from January 2020 to December 2022.
Postal inspectors reported 296 cocaine seizures in Massachusetts over that three-year period: amounting to nearly half a ton of cocaine.
Massachusetts also ranks 7th in the country for inbound mail shipments of synthetic opioids like fentanyl – with 47 shipments seized.
With 24 million packages passing through the U.S. mail a day, most drug shipments go undetected.
“When you look at the big urban areas, that’s where most of the drugs are flowing there,” lawyer Evan Gotlob told investigative reporter Ted Daniel.
Gotlob said he worked hundreds of drug cases in the eight years he spent as a federal prosecutor in Boston. He now works as a defense attorney for the Boston office of Saul Ewing.
Gotlob says drug dealers send their products by mail to reduce cost and risk.
And dealers go to great lengths to disguise or hide contraband
“I think the craziest one I ever saw, there were 15,000 meth pills in a Lego box,” Gotlob said. “You don’t know where the drugs are coming from. There’s never a return address. And a lot of these drugs, there’s no scent to them.”
25 Investigates looked at some of the biggest drug conspiracy cases announced by the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office in recent years.
25 Investigates has found at least 8 cases since 2016 where federal authorities in Massachusetts have pressed charges against dozens of people who allegedly trafficked drugs through the mail.
‘One Family Clique’
One federal affidavit reviewed by 25 Investigates described packages sent to 01826, a zip code in Dracut.
One priority mail package sent to a Dracut home was described as having: “998 grams of cocaine stored inside a dog food container”.
Federal prosecutors linked the shipment to the Lowell-based street gang “One Family Clique.”
In 2021, federal prosecutors charged 15 of the gang’s members and associates for allegedly perpetrating a large-scale and long-running drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy. Drugs they trafficked in included: heroin, cocaine, cocaine base, fentanyl, methamphetamine and MDMA.
Prosecutors allege that gang members starting in 2019 used the U.S. Postal Service to receive shipments of illegal narcotics and ship cash proceeds to suppliers.
Most of the drug packages came from California.
Low level associates were paid 250 dollars to receive them at their homes
The affidavit places gang members at post offices in Tewksbury and Billerica. And a “stash house” in Lowell, where gang meetings and other illegal activities took place.
Among the drugs seized in the One Family Clique investigation: a package sent from California to Nashua, N.H. with 10.6 pounds of crystal meth.
“A dangerous game”
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service says eliminating drugs and contraband by mail is a top priority.
Daniel Adame oversees drug inspections for the USPIS.
“When we can take do a big takedown arrest – 10 to 15 drug dealers at the same time – that’s certainly a show of force that we put out there to say we don’t want this in our system and we’re going to do everything we can to stop it,” said Adame, the Postal Inspector in Charge of the Contraband Interdiction and Investigations Division for USPIS.
Nationwide, USPIS reported 404 seizures of meth, 421 of cocaine, 269 of synthetic opioids and 55 seizures of heroin from October to December 2022.
Postal inspectors nationwide remove drugs from the mail and help investigate and arrest criminals to disrupt drug trafficking networks, according to a 2020 strategy plan.
That includes 2,562 arrests in 2019 alone.
Penalties for trafficking drugs through mail often carry mandatory prison sentences of at least 5 years for small quantities and ten years for larger quantities.
“You could take off low level members all day, but the impact will not be as much as if you take off a supplier, where you’re really kind of going to the heart of something and dismantling the drug trafficking organization,” Adame said.
To have the most impact, Adame said: “You have to take their drugs, you have to take their guns and you have to take their money.
Adame said their goal is interdicting drugs at the earliest point in the mail stream.
To inspect a package, law enforcement must usually obtain a search warrant based on reasonable suspicion.
That’s because U.S. Mail is protected by the Fourth Amendment.
Confiscated packages will be sent out for testing if postal inspectors find white powders or other suspicious materials.
The Postal Service also works on educating postal employees about the danger of being recruited to deliver packages.
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