Sunday, March 30, 2008

The "Drug Wars" (13), Oakland, Ca, ca. 1971

"Hey- Can't I say goodbye to my neighbors?"

Prior to joining DEA in 1973 as part of a government reorganization, I was working as a US Customs agent at Terminal Island (San Pedro) California. I was assigned to the Air Enforcement Detail. Our group was tasked with investigating the smuggling of drugs via small aircraft, either privately-owned or rented. This usually involved loads of several hundred pounds-or tons depending on the size of the aircraft-of marijuana coming out of Mexico. Our group had two planes and a helicopter at our disposal.

In developing intelligence, we contacted virtually all the small airports in Southern California trying to determine when and if known smuggler pilots were renting small planes. Anyway, one day ca 1971, we were "tipped off" that two guys in a van were seen at a small airport looking into the skies with binoculars.

That was it. Two guys with a van looking into the skies with binoculars. But our boss was a real gung-ho guy, who was eager to work around the clock based on the tiniest lead. So we were dispatched (grumbling) out to somewhere in San Bernadino County in an effort to find the mysterious van. By then, the van was nowhere around the airport, but armed with a plate number and description, we had our aircraft check out some known dry lake beds in the desert which were known as landing and off-loading sites. Lo and behold-we actually located the van parked on a dry lake bed. We set up surveillance in the area with our cars, plane and helicopter waiting for the load aircraft to arrive.

The next day, in the late afternoon, a plane landed on the dry lake bed and off-loaded several hundred pounds of marijuana in the van before taking off again. Having identified the plane by its tail number, we moved in to arrest the van drivers. As we arrived at the site, the van, loaded down now, was stuck in the sand with one of the suspects trying to dig it out from underneath. The initial reaction of his friend was; "Boy, are we glad to see you guys! Can you give us a hand?" Then he realized we were law enforcement-and he was under arrest. We then dragged his pal out from under the van by his legs.

We then took them to Terminal Island for booking and interviewing. By now, we had been up through one night and well into the next. I was looking forward to booking these guys into LA County Jail and going home for some sleep. But it was not to be. Both guys copped out and named the recipient of the load-who was in Oakland. They agreed to go through with their delivery of the van and the marijuana to Oakland.

So, after contacting the San Francisco Customs Office, we proceeded in a convoy to Oakland. It was about 1-2 am when we departed San Pedro. The next morning, we were meeting with our San Francisco counterparts and Oakland PD narcotics officers at the Oakland PD Hqs.

That afternoon, we set up surveillance in the neighborhood where the suspect lived. Apparently, he was the only white guy living in a black neighborhood. As usually happens, some neighbors began noticing the strangers sitting in cars. Eventually, our two cooperating defendants delivered the van into the garage of the suspect, we hit the place and arrested the bad guy.

As we were taking him out of the house in handcuffs, several neighbors had gathered in front of the house and were applauding the arrest and removal of this character from their neighborhood. Were they happy because they knew he was a doper-or just because he was the only white guy on the street? I never found out.


Lance Christian Johnson said...

It could have been a combination of both reasons!

Gary Fouse said...

I agree.