LA Sheriff’s Deputy Stages Bust in Order to Steal Marijuana and $615k

On March 4th, an LA deputy and an accomplice pleaded guilty to charges that originated with an armed robbery for $615k and half a ton of weed, or marijuana. Marc Antrim pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, and a “deprivation of rights under the color of law,” or using his position as an officer to do harm and take from civilians. Via his plea agreement, he faces decades behind bars, but then it is ultimately to be decided by the judge.

Kevin Mcbride, Matthew Perez, Daniel Aguilera, and Jay Sanford also face charges after being involved in the crime.

One of Atrim’s co-defendants came forward and pleaded guilty to conspiracy, to possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, and to being possessing a gun as a felon. Eric Rodriguez, an ex-convict, now faces the number of years in prison.

According to the prosecutors, the men collaborated with Atrim to carry out the armed robbery, back in October. They drove to the warehouse in an unmarked Ford. This Ford was allegedly registered as a police department vehicle. The men dressed as deputies from the LASD. They posed as officers with a warrant to search the warehouse. The men made the scene out to seem like a legitimate search by police.

After the crime had been put into action, Atrim allegedly detained the security guards of the warehouse. Sanford served as a look-out. Aguilera drove a rental truck used for transporting the stolen items (marijuana and two safes filled with cash).

In an ironic twist, the LAPD responded to an actual call to the warehouse, showing up in the midst of a faux search. Three of the men fled, while Atrim stayed behind, falsely explain he was carrying out legitimate orders. He put the officers in contact with a man he claimed was his sergeant. It was later revealed that the man was not a member of the LAPD, but merely posing as a sergeant.

The officers at first took his claims as true, leaving, and allowing the heist to be completed. The criminal complaint called for further investigation.

All of the men involved are now facing charges.

 

Over 200lbs of Cocaine Found at California Port

Officials at the Port of Hueneme discovered over 200 pounds of cocaine. This is reported to be the largest drug bust made at these ports in 25 years. The cocaine was found aboard two ships carrying produce from Central and South America, according to the Ventura Country Star.

On January 22nd, authorities from border patrol boarded a cargo ship from Ecuador. In their search, they found 80 packages of cocaine hidden beneath the floorboards of the ship. These packages contained over 200 pounds of cocaine.

After, on January 28th, a ship that had arrived from Guatemala was also searched. Over 17 pounds of cocaine were found in packets beneath its floorboards as well.

In total, 221.7lbs of cocaine were found, reports say.

The investigation was carried out by officers from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is responsible for the security of the border and international trade and travel. HIS is an investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

The Customs and Border Protection director for the port of Hueneme, LaFonda Sutton-Burke, said she was proud of the results of the joint effort. “It shows the professionalism, vigilance and keen focus of both agencies in preventing dangerous drugs into our communities,” Sutton-Burke said.

According to Jaime Ruiz from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, this normally doesn’t happen at Port Hueneme. The port is the only deep-water port between Los Angeles and San Francisco, known for imports of pineapples, bananas, and cars. It is also a popular tourist destination, Hueneme Beach Park nearby.

“This normally doesn’t happen in Port Hueneme,” said Ruiz. “These are big companies, so it’s a big shock for them. They’re probably going to review procedures and security measures because of this.”

It was not disclosed on what ships the cocaine was found, or what products it was carrying.

This drug bust came just after authorities reportedly seized 1.7 tons of methamphetamines, cocaine, and heroin, that was to be shipped to Australia from the Long Beach seaport of Los Angles.

Six people were arrested in the Los Angeles case, but there have yet to be any arrests made in the Port Hueneme case.

Joseph Macias, a special agent from Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) has said that as drug-traffickers HSI is working around the clock to try and stop the crime.

“HSI is generating a significant amount of intelligence in this investigation, which we will use to identify, disrupt and ultimately dismantle the criminal organization behind this scheme,” said Macias.

“Operation Hypocritical Oath” Leads to Many Arrests

In light of the current opioid crisis, a Drug Enforcement probe in Southern California called “Operation Hypocritical Oath” targets doctors, physicians, nurse practitioners, and clinic operators who supply narcotics to the black market or provide controlled substances in violation of their Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.”

U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna commented on this at a press conference in downtown Los Angeles. “We are in the midst of an opioid crisis that has caused untold anguish and death,” Hanna said. “Some in the medical community are stoking the fires, flooding our communities with prescription opioids.”

Prosecutors have charged practitioners and doctors alike with writing illegal prescriptions. Some wrote prescriptions knowing their “patients” we addict, while others used their job to acquire illegal narcotics.

Among the arrested was Gabriel Hernandez. A 58-year-old physician from Anaheim, he worked at a clinic for pain management.  Allegedly, Hernandez wrote a prescription for the three drugs and gave them to a man who died from the effects of mixing alcohol and two of these drugs a week later.

A criminal complaint led to his arrest. He was accused of giving out oxycodone with no medical reasoning. Reportedly, over two years, Hernandez dispensed 446,000 oxycodone pills, having prescribed more than 6,000 controlled substances. This allegedly included prescriptions for narcotics, a tranquilizer, and relaxant altogether. These “drug cocktails” are particularly looked for by drug addicts and dangerous due to the high threat of overdose.

Further investigation involving Hernandez’s history of prescriptions, tapes of office visits, and the input of a medical expert and law enforcement, it was concluded that seemed to act more like a drug dealer’s than a physician.

Others arrested include:

–    Monica Ann Berlin. She worked in Beverly Hills at a doctor’s office and allegedly stole her employer’s signature stamp to write out prescriptions that another person would fill. She apparently forged 44 prescriptions or more. They were written for substances used by her buyer.

–    Dr. Michael Anthony Simental. He faces charged of illegally distributing hydrocodone, an opioid. The investigation began after a patient of his died of a drug overdose.

–    Dr. Reza Ray Ehsan faces charges of selling controlled drugs to an agent posing as a patient. Allegedly she sold more than 700,000 pills in 2015-16 without reporting the sales.

Many others are also being investigated as a part of this operation. So far, the operation has caused 41 doctors to lose their right to practice, $3 million seized, and nine arrests of practitioners, according to William Bodner, the deputy in charge of Los Angeles DEA office.

Student Creates App Called “Banana Plug” to Sell Drugs

Colin Howard, an 18-year-old college freshman, is facing charges for allegedly creating an app to sell drugs, calling it “Banana Plug.”

This was not a one-time offense. Howard had previously been arrested on Nov. 28 in his college dorm on the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was faced with similar charges, and he pleads not guilty. After being indicted on Feb.18, he has again pleaded not guilty.

According to the prosecutor, the investigation began when a police officer noticed a poster advertising the app. The word ‘plug’ is slang for a drug dealer, and the ‘banana’ came from the school mascot: a banana slug.

The app could be downloaded from the Apple store, and it was advertised as a free game. The motto read as: “We Have What You Want.” Allegedly, users could place drug orders through the app. According to authorities, it offered a variety of drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, “molly” or “ecstasy,” and “shrooms” or psychedelic mushrooms.

Campus police worked alongside the Department of Homeland Security officers to investigate. They went undercover, posing as buyers, and completed four buys using the app. Their purchases included marijuana, cocaine, and over five grams of methamphetamine. This led them to their culprit and to make their arrest.

Scott Hernandez-Jason, a spokesman for the school, reportedly said that Howard is “no longer a student at UC Santa Cruz.” Student privacy laws keep the circumstances of this unclear, so the public does not know if he left voluntarily or was expelled.

If convicted, Howard could face millions of dollars in fines and decades in prison.

Banana Plug isn’t the first app or online digital platform used for illegal activity. In the current day and age, the internet can be utilized for criminal purposes. The dark web, for example, is a part of the internet only accessible by special software. This “dark web” allows users to remain anonymous. For a few years, the Silk Road was a website on the dark web that worked as a black-market. The transaction took place through bitcoin, a crypto-currency.

Even without the use of the dark web, crime can often be carried out over the web. The Washington Post cites Grindr, a dating app for gay men, to be regularly used for drug deals.

It’s not difficult to see crime through the internet to grow as it becomes more popular and widely-used.

Syphilis Has Been Linked to Drug Use

Recent statistical information links high rates of syphilis to drug use, claiming it to be a major risk factor in sexual behavior and getting STDs.

Research suggests that the risk involved with sexual activities that are associated with drug use could easily be a driving factor in the increase of syphilis spreading among heterosexuals. Those who engage in substance abuse are more likely to have unsafe sex, putting them at a higher risk for STDs than others.

Sarah Kidd helped to author the report on syphilis and drug use. She is an officer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report shows the connection between drug use and syphilis among women and heterosexual men. Reportedly, the use of heroin, methamphetamine, and other IV drugs has increased significantly in these groups from 2013 to 2017, the same way syphilis has increased. The CDC saw similar increases in syphilis during the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 90s.

Syphilis rates have jumped by 156 percent for women and 73 percent overall since 2013. The highest rates were reported in California, Nevada, and Louisiana.

Further research provided that methamphetamine was the most significant common issue among drug users in the syphilis cases from 2013 to 2017. More than one full third of women and a fourth of heterosexual men with syphilis stated that they had used methamphetamines within the year.

Syphilis is a treatable STD, but if it were to be left untreated, it could lead to organ damage and even death. Congenital Syphilis happens when a pregnant mother passes syphilis on to her unborn child. This has been known to cause premature birth and death in newborn babies.

A professor at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Patricia Kissinger, says that the addiction “takes over.” Users of drugs won’t use condoms, might have multiple partners, or they might even use sex to get money or drugs. All of these things increase the risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases. Sara Kennedy, a medical director for a Planned Parenthood in Northern California, argues that it is impossible to eradicate syphilis without addressing meth use and intravenous drug use.

The ties between substance abuse and syphilis can make it more difficult to treat many cases of syphilis, as drug users are less likely to seek treatment and to report their sexual partners, according to Kidd.

To fight back against syphilis, a collaboration between STD (or STI) help programs and substance abuse treatment programs, is what the CDC wants.

Reportedly, Fresno County has the highest rate of congenital syphilis in California. 25 cases were analyzed in 2017, and most of the mothers were found to be using drugs, reported Joe Prado, the county’s health division manager. To fight this, Fresno has put in place drug and STD-related initiatives. They now offer STD testing for people entering addiction treatment facilities. “That’s our opportunity to get them screened,” he said. The county also offers a gift card for those who return to see the results. They also give those in drug treatment care packages containing condoms and information on STDs

Still, Jeffery Klausner, a professor of health and medicine at UCLA, says that fighting the rising rates of syphilis will require resources that they don’t currently have.

Though, hopefully, they’ve made steps in the right direction already.