Big-time drug dealers in the San Gabriel Valley will soon have to contend with a new task force devoted exclusively to pushing them out of business and into jail.
Beginning Oct 1, a team of 15 to 20 local police officers and sheriff's deputies organized by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will begin hunting down and arresting drug dealers, suppliers and money launderers--anyone connected with supplying street dealers with drugs.
Evidence that such a task force is necessary surfaced Tuesday when officers announced that almost $6.9 million in cash was seized June 1 in a raid on a Walnut house operated by a suspected cocaine trafficking ring. The haul was reportedly the single largest seizure of drug money in California and one of the largest amounts recovered from one location in U.S. history.
"We've had several experiences with major narcotics arrests involving Colombians in Arcadia, West Covina, Pomona, San Dimas and El Monte--every city involved has had a major seizure," said Capt. Bob Wilber of the Sheriff's Narcotics Bureau.
The other cities participating in the project, called the San Gabriel Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team, are Glendora, Covina, Azusa, Baldwin Park, San Gabriel, Monrovia and Pasadena. Most cities will contribute one officer and one vehicle to the team. Pasadena will provide two helicopters, and the Sheriff's Department will supply additional officers and equipment.
The San Dimas City Council resolved Tuesday to help the task force find free or low-cost lodging in the city for officers assigned to the operation.
Police Chiefs Meet
The task force idea arose after Wilber and a number of San Gabriel Valley police chiefs informally discussed the increased number of drug traffickers entering the area and the inability of small local police agencies to effectively control the problem.
Echoing the feelings of several other police chiefs involved in the project, Covina Police Chief John Lentz Jr. said: "We only have 53 sworn people. I can't really commit any of my people to following the (drug) trail from the street on up."
Police said drug traffickers live in residential areas for several reasons: The neighborhoods are unassuming and provide a good base for selling drugs and laundering money.
"Some Colombians have one house where they live, one house where the dope is stored, and one where they launder money" said Lt. Jerry Schultze of the Pasadena Police Department.
Capt. John Broderick of the Azusa Police said: "They're definitely doing the operating here. The dividing up of dope, dope distribution, money collecting, money laundering, sending it back to South America. I think the San Gabriel Valley represents its fair share of the activity."
"We're looking for persons dealing in kilo quantities of drugs," said Wilber. "We're looking at people who are making huge amounts of money."
Wilber declined to discuss the task force's tactics, saying it would give suspects an unfair advantage. He did say the lion's share of any money seized will be given to the city where the arrest was made, with a small portion going toward running the task force.
The task force will continue to operate, Wilber said, "as long as it is doing its job and as long as there is a drug problem in the valley."