On Sunday, agents with the Humboldt County Drug Task Force arrested three men in connection with a year-long investigation into heroin trafficking in the county.
Agents seized more than nine pounds of heroin packaged for sale and more than $300,000 in cash after agents conducted two traffic stops and searched one residence.
According to the drug task force’s Sgt. Jesse Taylor, one of the men arrested was more than just a low-level runner transporting narcotics from one location to another.
“Usually the runner’s overall knowledge of operations is pretty limited and the cartels do that by design,” Taylor said. “One of the three we arrested was a mid-to-upper-level boss for the cartel and we definitely believe he was up in there in the hierarchy. I’m not saying he was the kingpin, but he’s definitely got connections up the chain of command.”
The amount of heroin moving through the county has increased and the amount of heroin seized so far in 2018 is six times greater than the total amount of heroin seized in the entire year in 2017.
Since the first of the year, more than 32 pounds of heroin have been seized by the DTF compared to just over six pounds in 2017. In comparison, in 2017 the DTF seized some 260 grams of prescription narcotics and in 2018 that number has dropped to 173 grams.
Taylor said the amount of heroin passing through the community has had one odd effect- it’s made it far easier for a user to acquire the drug, and for someone trying to get clean that can be another hurdle to sobriety.
“I talk to addicts when we make busts and usually they are very open to talking,” Taylor said. “What they are reporting now is that the state has reduced punishments for possession and there is so much more available on the street it makes it hard to get clean. Now, when you get busted for possession you are booked and released if you don’t have a lengthy rap sheet.”
A year-long investigation into trafficking takes a lot of personnel hours and preparation. Taylor said they use a variety of strategies to keep pace with the cartels that are always trying to find a way around law enforcement efforts.
“It’s a lot of cat and mouse, and it does take a lot of time,” Taylor said. “On this case, there were several investigations along the way that helped us along the way. We use a lot of surveillance, trailing people. You just don’t stumble upon nine pounds of heroin.”
Taylor added the busts may interrupt or disrupt local dealers and create a ripple effect down the line to the user and the cartels will then “change their game and their strategies and, honestly, I get the feeling that after a few weeks they are back up and running locally.”
In Arcata, Police Chief Rick Ehle believes the availability of narcotics like heroin has had a deeply negative impact on the city, particularly among the transient population, and it could have played a role in the stabbing on Oct. 25 that led to the death of 27-year-old Peter Triantos.
“You see the end result last Thursday morning. These kids are drunk and drugged and you go down there and start mixing alcohol and drugs, and next you thing you know, you’ve got a senseless crime,” Ehle said. “Alcohol is bad enough, but you never know what you’re getting with heroin. And of course we had Sidelines and Toby and Jack’s where you can get it at the bar, that’s the kind of thing we’re experiencing.”
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.