- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Federal authorities yesterday arrested 55 persons in what Attorney General John Ashcroft described as the coast-to-coast trafficking of illegal drug paraphernalia from both stores and the Internet.

The arrests by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, assisted by the U.S. Marshals Service, the Secret Service, the U.S. Customs Service and the Postal Inspection Service, were part of an undercover investigation known as Operation Pipe Dreams.

The arrests targeted suspected paraphernalia dealers from Pennsylvania to California and began after federal grand juries in several states returned more than three dozen indictments in the probe.

In addition, nine persons were indicted in Des Moines, Iowa, in a separate probe known as Operation Headhunter, which targeted $2 million worth of paraphernalia marketed by distributors in Michigan, California and Texas.

"With the advent of the Internet, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has exploded," Mr. Ashcroft said at a press conference to announce the arrests. "The drug paraphernalia business is now accessible in anyone's home with a computer and Internet access. And in homes across America, we know children and young adults are the fastest-growing Internet users.

"Quite simply, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge," he said. "This illegal billion-dollar industry will no longer be ignored by law enforcement."

Federal law defines drug paraphernalia as those products primarily intended or designed to be used in ingesting, inhaling or otherwise using controlled substances, and include devices such as miniature scales, substances for "cutting" raw narcotics, water and marijuana pipes, roach clips, miniature spoons and cocaine freebase kits.

"People selling drug paraphernalia are in essence no different than drug dealers," said acting DEA Administrator John B. Brown III. "They are as much a part of drug trafficking as silencers are a part of criminal homicide."

Those arrested were charged with conspiracy to sell and offering to sell various types of drug paraphernalia.

The government said all those arrested "knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully sold the items for use with illegal narcotics."

Authorities said many of the items were disguised as common objects such as highlighting pens and lipsticks to elude detection as drug paraphernalia and were marketed using code names and symbols.

"These criminals operate a multimillion-dollar enterprise, selling their paraphernalia in headshops, distributing out of huge warehouses, and using the worldwide Web as a worldwide paraphernalia market," Mr. Brown said.

John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the aggressive marketing of drug paraphernalia is illegal and has been "an active affront" to the efforts of parents, educators and community leaders trying to help young people stay away from dangerous drugs.

"Today's actions send a clear and unambiguous message to those who would poison our children: We will bring you to justice, and we will act decisively to protect our young people from the harms of illegal drugs," Mr. Walters said.

Federal law provides for a maximum sentence of three years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both, for each count charged.

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