New kingpins of heroin

MALCOLM GRAY September 7 1987

New kingpins of heroin

MALCOLM GRAY September 7 1987

New kingpins of heroin


The catch was significant-33 lb. of pure heroin, an amount worth an estimated $40 million on the

streets of New York City. And four Asian-born men were later convicted of drug trafficking charges that police laid after that seizure. Indeed, narcotics officers who participated in that raid on a Chinese restaurant last September say that Chinese criminals have been flooding New York City with huge quantities of high-quality heroin from Southeast Asia during the past three years. In the process, according to spokesmen for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Chinese traffickers are gradually wresting control of the city’s heroin trade from local Mafia organizations. Declared Robert Stutman, the DEA’s top agent in New York: “This is clearly one of the most dramatic changes in drug-trafficking patterns that I have seen.”

New York’s illegal drug market is a tempting prize, because there are roughly 250,000 heroin addicts in the state—half the figure for the entire

United States. Now, according to federal and city law enforcement officials, Chinese criminals with connections in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the so-called Golden Triangle—an opium-growing area where the borders of Thailand,

Burma and Laos converge—control about 40 per cent of the heroin entering the city. At the same time, the new distribution systems highlight an emerging problem for police forces in major cities across the United States and Canada: increasingly bold and sophisticated attempts by Chinese criminal organizations to expand their operations.

In Vancouver, for one, police say that locally based criminals and the 200 core members of four Chinese street gangs there sometimes form loose drug-importing rings to help supply British Columbia’s 10,000 heroin addicts. And Asian gang expert Const. Robert Cooper predicted that such activity will increase because many Chinese criminals will leave Hong Kong before Britain returns the colony to the stricter Chinese government in 1997. Declared Cooper: “It’s going to be a whole new ball game for us when the Communists take over.”

Meanwhile, New York City narcotics agents say that the city’s five Mafia organizations—which have traditionally controlled almost all heroin distribution in that city during the past 30 years—are in disarray. That declinecaused by a series of successful state and federal prosecutions against local gangland leaders on charges ranging from drug trafficking to racketeer-

ing—has emboldened locally based Chinese criminal groups. Declared DEA member Robert Strang: “Crime loves a vacuum, and the Chinese are filling that vacuum.”

According to DEA officials, those or-

ganizations had been active in gambling, prostitution and extortion operations within the city’s ethnic Chinese community. Now they have set up new distribution systems that allow them to supply dealers in poor neighborhoods outside the Chinese community. Declared James Goldman, a U.S. immigration agent:

“It is racist, but as long as their victims were Chinese, they basically did not exist. Now that they are getting into dope and must deal with the outside world, law enforcement no longer can ignore them.”

Federal drug agents say that the new trafficking groups range from loose associations of businessmen and smugglers who come together for a single drug deal to more permanent groups of up to 100 members. Other U.S. agencies,

including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, say that triads—centuries-old hierarchical criminal societies now based in Hong Kong and Taiwan—are already operating in the United States. But DEA representatives reject that

theory and say that they have not found any evidence of direct triad involvement in those new heroin-importing networks.

DEA representatives also say that they are doing well in the fight against Chi-

nese heroin importers because they have seized 1,000 lb. of pure so-called China White heroin during the past two years. Declared Charles Rose, an assistant U.S. attorney who specializes in narcotics cases: “In one seizure last year at Ken-

nedy Airport we got 50 lb. of heroin that was concealed in picture frames. That’s more than we seized from Sicilian groups the entire previous year.”

But one official acknowledged that in New York City the agency had few agents who were fluent in Chinese dialects. And the city’s police force has similar problems: there are only 152 Asian-Americans on the 27,000-member force and only 40 officers speak Chinese. U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies are now actively recruiting more Chinese-speaking mem-

bers—to reduce the language advantage that their criminal opponents currently hold.