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Record year for drug money seizures

 

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

It’s been a whirlwind year for the aggressive Lincoln County Sheriff’s Narcotics Division, which not only rounded up nearly 140 area drug dealers from three operations, but also seized an unprecedented amount of cash in the process, investigators told the Times-News earlier this month.

Whether the job calls for busting down alleged drug traffickers’ doors, responding to traffic stops where patrol officers have located either legitimate or counterfeit controlled substances or wiring up for a dangerous undercover investigation, cracking down on area crime is at the heart of each mission, particularly since drug abuse is all too often linked to other illegal activity.

The division got its hands on hundreds of thousands of dollars this year, having more than $175,000 turned back over to the agency for official use, the largest total amount the Sheriff’s Office has recovered and maintained in a one-year period, investigators said.

The total is also nearly triple the amount of funds the narcotics division seized and received for official use in 2011, which fell somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000, according to Lt. Jason Reid, head of Narcotics for the Sheriff’s Office.

He said the increase in the division’s money seizures in 2012 is directly related to investigators’ clever training during the last year.

In addition, he said his previous experience with undercover drug work at three agencies outside Lincoln County over the last decade and a half has drastically revamped how the narcotics division has operated since the end of 2010, when he came on board with the local Sheriff’s Office.

Also head of SWAT, Reid said the division has had to utilize the heavily-armed tactical team on at least a dozen drug-related incidents this year.

Sheriff David Carpenter described Reid, one of his top lieutenants, as a “highly motivated and skillfully trained” officer.

Reid said his team of proactive investigators constantly works to generate “fresh, new ideas” for capturing drug dealers.

While Reid wouldn’t detail his division’s goals for the upcoming year, in order to protect the agency and his team, he told the Times-News that drug investigators will always look to improve their skills and tactics in the field.

“Everybody can get better … especially by thinking outside the box,” he said. “Our goal will always be to get more (drugs and cash seizures) than the previous year.”

The drug lieutenant did note how he would like for Lincoln County to mirror the annual million-dollar cash seizure of the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office.

Since he used to work with the Statesville-based agency, targeting major highways I-40 and I-77, he’s seen deputies reach money seizure goals much larger than Lincoln County’s narcotics division.

“I’ve seen it done and been a part of it (the seizures),” he said.

One of the primary objectives for the narcotics division is to remain self-funded, meaning investigators not only work to seize money but also vehicles.

Once a vehicle has been seized, it can either be sold for profit or turned back over to drug investigators, Reid said. Turnover time usually takes between six months and a year.

“It’s not just enough to take a person’s drugs and charge him with a crime” Reid said, “you gotta take their money, their cars, their possessions and all the assets that a dealer acquires through selling controlled substances. The secret is knowing what to take, when to take it and how to take it.”

The division seized six vehicles alone in 2012 and gained three additional ones, seized from incidents in 2011, that the Sheriff’s Office finally turned over to investigators this year.

In addition to locating record-breaking amounts of cash from drug dealers, deputies said they have witnessed an influx in prescription pills, which are now second only to marijuana in county drug seizures.

Investigators said such pills not only offer the same high as illicit street drugs but are also easier to obtain than other substances since they’re often found in friends’ and family members’ medicine cabinets.

“You can get pills from anyone in your household,” Reid said.

In addition, law enforcement officers said they have a more difficult time locating such abusers because the pills are legal for the person whose name is listed on the bottle.

Carpenter is confident that despite the drug division’s unparalleled success this year, when compared to past agency success and narcotics units in neighboring counties, investigators still have nowhere to go but up. He also believes the agents’ zealous work ethic is internally motivating other deputies and departments throughout the Sheriff’s Office, encouraging them to follow suit.

“Look for more of the same (success) to come (next year),” he said.

 

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