The John Carman Report

Prescription Drug Smuggler's
Overlooked in Drug War? Not!

During my 15 year career with U.S. Customs, I had hundreds of occasions where I was seizing prescription drugs that were restricted or just "totally undeclared".

Customs Supervisors didn't seem to like this because they tended to "let things go". Remember, we didn't have the manpower to seize "less important" contraband because of the "facilitation requirements". Which means you had to have the more "serious narcotics" like large quantities of heroin, cocaine or marijuana before they would have to have you replaced. Or they would make you work the lanes and do your reports in between the rotations. They don't do that in the "real world" when you catch a crook. There is no consistency when you write your reports and your busy trying to process traffic and remember all the details for court later.

I did screw things up for the Customs Supervisors when I got a narcotics seizure or weapons seizure and management put me back out on the primary lane in between rotations to finish my reports. I went out and got another narcotics seizure! Would you believe it, the Customs Supervisor actually wanted me to cover the primary lanes and do my reports on the rotations for two narcotics seizures. Forget my lunch break too!

Some law enforcement officers spend a couple of hours on a good case. In some cases we did too. The main point was that management was too "worried" about the silly "backup" of traffic and wanted to put you back on the "line" to process traffic when you did catch something more serious. They didn't seem to get their priorities straight. Don't they realize the dangers of letting you get involved in something else while your already doing a narcotics related seizure? No they don't! There is also problems with too many "hands" involved in your seizure while your off processing traffic for them. You'd be surprised how many "mistakes" were made to your paperwork or chain of custody while that maneuver was done.

While I was seizing lots of "restricted" prescription drugs, I made it a special project of mine to educate myself on all the various types of "Drug related" seizures that I could make, when there weren't any dangerous narco-terrorists or fugitives carrying automatic weapons related seizures to be made. Remember, I would seize or arrest anything I could get my hands on if I was able to. I figure I might as well give it my best while I was there.

One time I caught three violators in a pickup truck one day at San Ysidro when a well dressed man was driving a couple of "Hippies" across the border. (They looked as if they were still out of the 60's) They didn't fit the usual profile for looking like "associates". I started to question them on various things and the passenger in the "Hot Seat"(farthest away) was very nervous and his leg wouldn't stop jumping up and down. He also didn't make eye contact, which is very important in my work. (I made most of my best narcotics seizures on that factor alone). As I focused in on the passenger and his female passenger, the "driver" tried to make excuses for me or try to divert my attention so I wouldn't focus on his passengers. I then asked for identification from all of the persons in the vehicle and his passengers didn't have any.

I then noticed that the "nervous hippie passenger" was trying to move for something under his leg and I got reactive and told them to stop right there for safety reasons. I pulled the ignition keys from the already stopped vehicle just in case the driver tried to do something. The passenger still kept moving and I pulled my handgun out while ordering the three persons to put their hands on the dash. Ultimately, I got assistance from other inspectors near by as this created a little attention. I had to cuff the hippie suspect and escort the three persons inside for a special search at secondary.

I discovered that the hippie suspect was hiding a couple of bottles of "ketamine" which is an animal tranquilizer commonly "popped" under the skin intravenously. It is the next best thing to PCP and is still abused by a few people who know what it's affects are.

The hippie girlfriend had a small fannie pack that was concealed in her lower stomach crotch area which I located prior to handcuffing. The concealed fanniepack held approximately 100 ready to use injection needles and syringes. They were not "declared" on primary and there was an overt act to conceal the contraband. A subsequent search revealed approximately four bottles of "Ketamine" liquid in restricted medical sized injection bottles.

A seizure was completed and arrests were made of the two hippies and the charges were later dropped to a misdemeanor "federal smuggling" charge. The violators got six months probation. This same response happened when I seized over an ounce of LSD powder. Probation was given at the request of the Federal U.S. Attorneys and Federal Judges. Not worth the adrenaline rush when having to pull your handgun on someone for making a "move" for a possible weapon. Believe me, it's not a nice feeling to "almost" have to shoot someone, especially when there are no weapons found. I have had to draw my handgun many other times when there were weapons involved and I felt just great. Especially for getting the drop on the "bad guys". (But that's another article)

On another occasion, I was working the Pedestrian area at San Ysidro where thousands of people walk into the U.S. from Mexico. In one day alone you might process thousands in an eight hour shift for the world's largest land border crossing. I was processing these two long haired "Postal Employees" who came from Mexico with some "restricted" prescription medication. They each had their Postal work shirts on with civilian pants. They each "declared" a large bottle of Darvon and upon a "patdown" I discovered more restricted Demoral. Each bottle easily had over 250 pills which is way beyond the usual limit of normal usage. Neither person had a prescription from a U.S. licensed doctor with a D.E.A. license number. Each of these guys had "track marks" on both arms which was really indicative of their drug use. The Customs supervisor didn't want me to process these guys, but I pursued it anyway as was my official duty. I even notified the Postal Inspectors to verify if these guys really worked at the U.S. Post Office and they did to my surprise. (No more Postal Jokes O.K.?)

Eventually, these guys were turned over to the Customs Agents and the Postal Inspectors for further investigation. Ever wonder why your mail was "misplaced" or "missing"? I got teased for this enforcement action for a week.

The same or similar situation has happened to Military, Police Officers, other government employees and well known persons while I was stationed in San Diego. Sometimes management tried to cover up for certain "public" persons that I caught. I wondered what difference it made.

On a very interesting smuggling case I apprehended at the San Ysidro Pedestrian area back in 1994 was with a young college co-ed who was traveling by herself. She had no real purpose for going to Mexico except to buy prescription drugs. She was a little nervous and had a very large bottle of "undeclared restricted" prescription muscle relaxers. It was of a "commercial quantity" and over 1,000 pills. When asked for a prescription, she had none. I the informed her that she could not legally possess them. I asked for legal identification and she presented me with a fraudulent I.D. card. A subsequent search revealed a proper identification in her name and possession. I had the violator fill out the Customs Form 4607 and certified it for destruction in which the pills were immediately flushed in front of another Customs Inspector.

After that episode, I got a call from a disrespectful Customs Supervisor informing me that I had to write an incident report explaining what happened with the young lady in question who was smuggling restricted medicines. I complied and wrote a detailed incident report. I further got harassing phone calls from an "alleged" attorney for the young violator threatening me with a law suit. I merely explained the circumstances in general lawful terms since I believed it was a "concerned" citizen with questions about procedures. None of the violators information was revealed to protect her privacy anyway. Nothing ever happened with that case but I still have a copy of my paperwork and I will always remember how disrespectful I was treated by certain Customs Supervisors.

I was later informed by Customs Supervisors Edward Castorena and the Public Affairs Official, Bobbie Cassidy, that they "would have given the violator her "undeclared and restricted" pain killers and muscle relaxers back". When I asked them what Customs regulations they were using to make that decision, they both declined further comment. They just wanted to try an invalidate everything I did with regards to enforcement.

It seems that all you need to have is a Customs violator or smuggler trying to intimidate the Customs Inspector or Managers out of doing their jobs, or get a highly paid attorney to make a few phone calls to threaten or intimidate a Federal U.S. Customs Officer in the performance of his official duties. I have yet to see very many Customs Supervisors back up their own Men and Women who are the front line of defense against smuggling of contraband and serious violations of federal laws. I have even been "ordered" off of certain inspections when there was an obvious "conflict of interest" on the part of the Customs Supervisors". When Customs Internal Affairs was informed of these situations they merely did "nothing". Now there is a news story in the Copley News Service, dated April 5, 1999, claiming that Customs doesn't do their jobs and "prescription smugglers are overlooked". At least I didn't overlook them!

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