Colombian cocaine traffickers turn to heroin

Eyewitness News reporter Sarah Wallace is taking you inside the Colombian drug trade in a five-part series.

February 11, 2010 2:18:13 PM PST
It's being called an epidemic in some of our suburbs, the explosion of heroin abuse and overdoses. Where is the heroin coming from? And what's being done to try to stem the flow? Back in the 1970s and 80s, the heroin we saw in New York was coming from Southeast Asia. But not anymore. The Colombians, known for cocaine, have now taken over the heroin market with a vengeance. Eyewitness News visited the front lines of the battle to try to cut off the supply at the source.

Eyewitness News was there as agents met at a staging area at a secret location in Bogota, Colombia in the pre-dawn darkness. Hundreds of narcotics officers from the Colombia National Police, along with American Drug Enforcement Agents, are taking down 11 members of a heroin trafficking ring with a direct link to New York City.

Eyewitness News Reporter Sarah Wallace: "This ring includes who?"
DEA Agent Jeremy Scott: "Everyone from the top to the bottom. From the suppliers to transporters."

The teams fanned out to several Bogota locations, with a mission that was the end result of a year-long investigation that included busts in New York City. Three of the accused top traffickers arrested in Colombia will be extradited to the U.S. to face charges, because that's where the drugs were sold.

Wallace: "What were they clearing in a month?"
DEA Agent Todd Meinken: "They were clearing about a million dollars a month."

A day before the raid, there was more drama at the airport. The police in Colombia got a tip that two heroin mules would be getting on a flight to Central America to meet a U.S. drug connection. What cops didn't know is how the couriers would be moving the heroin. Sometimes it's in a suitcase or shoes, often it's swallowed. They've seen it all with their new body scan machine. The well-dressed middle-aged woman and her nephew, a former Colombian police officer, had no idea why they'd been pulled out of a line at the gate.

To make the check look random, police brought in several other passengers. Eyewitness News watched as the two targets were scanned, one at a time. The officer signaled and pointed to his stomach.

How many? Fifty to 60 small capsules, all filled with heroin. The couple tried to argue the capsules were beans, but the lead officer wasn't buying it. The suspects knew exactly what they ate, and it wasn't beans.

Each suspect was carrying nearly a kilo each, worth $300,000 when sold on our streets in little glassine bags. Long Island is being hit hard with heroin and the Nassau County District Attorney has made it her top priority.

"It's very cheap, you can buy a bag for less than a six-pack of beer at a convenience store," District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.

The heroin, going for $5 a bag, being sold in New York is 100 percent Colombian. Once famous as the cocaine capital of the world, the country's now the hotbed for heroin, which comes from innocent-looking poppies. Entrepreneurial traffickers figured out a way to take advantage of their already established cocaine routes to the U.S.

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