Collaborative multi-state Heroin Task Force leverages resources, increases information sharing channels to combat distribution
RICHMOND (September 22, 2015) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that Virginia has joined the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force (NEMA-HTF), a first-of-its kind task force that fosters cross-state collaboration and leverages resources to combat heroin distribution and the associated rise in heroin overdose fatalities. The Commonwealth of Virginia, through the Office of Attorney General and Virginia State Police, is the seventh state to join the Task Force after New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Maine.
“The heroin epidemic doesn’t recognize borders and it’s more important than ever to coordinate with Virginia’s neighbors to stop the influx of heroin,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “We’re in this together, and by sharing information and collaborating on leads we’re better equipped to dismantle large-scale drug operations that are trying to profit off of addiction. Traffickers and dealers can’t hide behind borders.”
“The scourge of heroin abuse is a problem that crosses state borders and demands a coordinated response from law enforcement,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a founding member and co-chair of NEMA-HTF.“Heroin traffickers are spreading addiction and death up and down the eastern seaboard and I’m pleased Attorney General Herring has joined our joint effort to help break up the multi-state drug rings that are poisoning our communities.”
“This partnership provides Virginia’s state and local law enforcement agencies with an additional means of leveraging the investigative and prosecutorial resources beyond our borders,” said Col. W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Successfully combating heroin distribution, use and overdoses requires a collaborative and comprehensive approach by public safety agencies and prosecutors at the local, state and federal levels.”
Virginia’s geographic location and makeup of large cities, ports, and high volume highways and transportation hubs make it vulnerable to drug trafficking activities. There are several designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) in Virginia including areas in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, Roanoke and Southwest Virginia.
The Task Force utilizes an unprecedented level of collaboration and information sharing between state attorneys general and other law enforcement officials to implement the best approaches to combat the spread of heroin. By bringing each agency’s unique experience, methodology, analytical techniques and technologies, joining forces will allow for more targeted investigation and prosecution of drug rings and pipelines.
The Task Force will expand the exchange of critical information that can be used to disrupt interstate trafficking operations, including specific suspects and persons of interest, distribution routes and stash houses used to store heroin. Authorities often identify informants who have knowledge about heroin trafficking activities in other states, and the Task Force will allow for better use of that information. By sharing this information, agencies will be able to pursue stronger criminal cases targeting large-scale distribution operations spanning multiple states, which are funneling heroin into our communities.
Many drug operations use multistate trafficking routes, including the Outten Organization in Hampton Roads, which was recently prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General John Butler working alongside federal prosecutors from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Outten Organization was a sophisticated heroin operation that trafficked and dealt 165 pounds of heroin with a street value worth up to $3.75 million dollars. The group was also responsible for at least 5 heroin overdoses in the Hampton Roads area. Search warrants were successfully executed with law enforcement from federal, local, state partners, and with law enforcement officers from other states, which served as a testament to implementing a collaborative approach.
This unique agreement falls under the “Prosecutions and Partnerships” category of Attorney General Herring’s Five Point Plan to Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse announced in September 2014.