Drug Flow Across U.S. Borders Decried : Planned Cut in Number of Customs Agents Criticized at Hearing

May 26, 1985|ELAINE WOO | Times Staff Writer

At a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing that at times resembled a revival meeting, local law enforcement officials and residents of South-Central and East Los Angeles on Saturday called for stepping up the war at the nation's borders against drug smuggling.

Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles) told a crowd of 300 in the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration that almost all illegal drugs sold and used in the United States are imported under the noses of customs agents because so little of the cargo is inspected.

"Many seizures are made, but not enough" to stem the flow of illegal drugs entering major ports, including Los Angeles, said Roybal, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on treasury, postal service and general government.

Opposition to Cut Urged

Several law enforcement officials and community leaders urged Roybal to oppose a Reagan Administration proposal to cut 878 customs officers from the federal budget.

"We need more, not fewer, customs agents," said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner. "Frankly, I am dismayed that our Administration would act in a manner that would open up our borders to drugs. Talk about being penny-wise and pound foolish."

Roybal said he wants to restore the threatened positions and add another 600 officers.

Assemblyman Steve Clute (D-Riverside) told the subcommittee that one way to halt the drug traffic is to enact laws that will keep drug dealers from laundering their profits through banks.

"The ability to move and launder cash is the bottom line of the drug-selling business. . . . If we can keep drug dealers from 'washing' their money," Clute said, "we will make it very hard for them to stay in business."

Legislation Being Drafted

Clute said he is drafting legislation that would impose fines on people who knowingly deposit laundered drug money. He said he also wants to change the law so banks that knowingly accept deposits of such money are penalized, possibly through a fine equal to the cash deposit.

Members of two grass-roots anti-crime organizations, United Neighborhoods Organization and the South-Central Organizing Committee, spoke about personal tragedies that resulted from drug-related crimes--a daughter who died of a drug overdose and a son who was killed in an outburst of drug-related gang violence.

Memorial Service Held

The hearing began with revival songs and a solemn memorial service for 195 people who died in Los Angeles County last year because of drugs.

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