The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and its law enforcement partners have made 75 arrests and confiscated more than $15 million in cash and assets in a sweep of 35 states targeting gangs that traffic in designer synthetic drugs, the DEA said Wednesday.
As a part of “Project Synergy” that began in December, the DEA raids targeted retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers with agents uncovering the massive flow of drug-related proceeds back to countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
It was the largest-ever crackdown on those who make and sell synthetic drugs. DEA officials did not name any country or suspected terror group that might have profited from the sales, citing an ongoing investigation.
“Shutting down businesses that traffic in these drugs and attacking their operations worldwide is a priority for DEA and our law enforcement partners,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “These designer drugs are destructive, dangerous, and are destroying lives. DEA has been at the forefront of the battle against this trend and is targeting these new and emerging drugs with every scientific, legislative and investigative tool at our disposal.”
On Wednesday, law enforcement authorities executed 150 arrest warrants and 375 search warrants in 35 states, 49 cities and five countries. During the past three days, the agency said DEA agents seized more than 1,200 pounds of synthetic drugs in a joint operation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection aimed at international shipments of synthetic drugs at express consignment facilities.
Since February, more than 2,200 pounds of synthetic drugs have been seized at express consignment facilities.
Designer synthetic drugs often are marketed as herbal incense, bath salts, jewelry cleaner or plant food, and have caused significant abuse, addiction, overdoses and emergency room visits. Synthetic drugs have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption or for medical use, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.
Project Synergy was coordinated by DEA’s Special Operations Division, working with the DEA Office of Diversion Control, and included cases led by the DEA, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, and the Internal Revenue Service. In addition, law enforcement in Australia, Barbados, Panama and Canada participated, as well as countless state and local law enforcement members.
“The criminals behind the importation, distribution and selling of these drugs have scant regard for human life in their reckless pursuit of illicit profits,” said Traci Lembke, ICE’s deputy assistant director of investigative programs. “For criminal groups seeking to profit through the sale of illegal narcotics, the message is clear: We know how you operate; we know where you hide; and we will not stop until we bring you to justice.”