April 3, 1995 in Nation/World

Zips Zap Dealers Certain Return Addresses Are A Factor In Whether Package Gets Sniffed By A Drug Dog

Bill Morlin Staff Writer

ZIP codes help speed up the delivery of mail. They also help slow down the dope business.

An increasing number of drug parcels sent through the mail are being intercepted in Spokane, thanks to a profile of suspicious packages developed by postal inspectors.

They’re not eager to publicly discuss particulars of the profile, fearing it would tip off drug dealers.

But authorities say the profile is working well.

“It’s another weapon in the war against drugs,” said Jim Bordenet, a spokesman for the Postal Inspection Service.

Court records show that a key portion of the profile is where the parcel was mailed - the ZIP code.

Names and return addresses that inspectors determine are fictitious also can be part of the profile, records show.

Most of the drug mail coming to the Spokane area originates from “a major drug distribution area, Southern California,” one recent court case says.

Parcels that match the profile are placed before a specially trained drug-sniffing dog.

Many times, drug distributors use masking agents such as coffee grounds in attempts to confuse or mislead the drug dogs.

If a drug dog responds in a positive fashion to a parcel, investigators ask a judge for a search warrant to open the mail to check for drugs.

When drugs are found, most of them are removed before the package is resealed and delivered.

Investigators using surveillance equipment watch the delivery of the parcel and make arrests once it is opened or moved.

Since October 1992, inspectors have intercepted 27 mail parcels containing drugs destined for delivery in Spokane or Coeur d’Alene.

The number of seizures is increasing, Bordenet said, explaining that all 27 resulted in state or federal prosecutions.

Last weekend, postal inspectors and Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested a 23-year-old California man after he went to a South Hill home to pick up a package delivered a few hours earlier.

James E. Hunter is charged with possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and use of a communications facility - the U.S. mail - to distribute drugs.

The package was spotted through use of the drug profile. When a search warrant was obtained, investigators found loose coffee grounds inside the parcel.

They also found 50 grams of crack cocaine, mailed to Spokane from Los Angeles.

The woman who lives at the home where the package was delivered was questioned, but not charged because investigators couldn’t prove she knew drugs were inside.

Bordenet said that package - like most of those containing drugs - was sent through the Postal Service’s Express Mail.

The service guarantees overnight delivery from most major metropolitan areas.

“We’re certainly aware that since we started Express Mail service, the criminal element has seen it as another way of distributing controlled substances,” Bordenet said.

Postal inspectors know they are detecting only a small percentage of the drugs being shipped through the mail.

The Spokane mail center processes 110,000 pieces of Express Mail a year, and many more thousands of additional parcels are sent through regular mail.

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