A newly formed FBI joint task force aimed at combating the Cape Fear region’s heroin epidemic is helping local authorities break through county, state and national borders to bring heroin traffickers to justice.
At a press conference on Thursday, Wilmington’s FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Stanley M. Meador announced the federal agency is joining forces with local and state authorities to help track down criminals who supply heroin to the coastal areas of North Carolina – no matter where they reside.
The Coastal Carolina Criminal Enterprise Task Force is combining the efforts of the FBI’s Wilmington Resident Agency, the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). The joint law enforcement investigations will be supported by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of North Carolina, as well as the Offices of District Attorneys Ben David and Jon David.
“The opiate and heroin epidemic is a growing concern for many communities throughout North Carolina. Those involved with the sale and use of these drugs can victimize their community, strain law enforcement resources and diminish area quality of life,” said Mac Warner, Special Agent in Charge of the SBI’s Coastal District.
That’s why, Warner said, the SBI joined seven months ago with the Brunswick and New Hanover county sheriff’s offices in a task force to tackle heroin distribution in the region.
A month later, the FBI began a six-month assessment to determine its role in combating the heroin epidemic in the local community, Meador said, adding that the agency determined the problem was “priority one” for their office. The task force, which includes five local drug agents and one FBI agent, will receive federal funding for their operations.
Officials said the heroin epidemic has grown over the last few years and often, a person’s addiction begins with abuse of opioid prescription drugs. But when they can no longer legally gain access to the pain relievers or cannot afford them, they turn to heroin, which is less expensive and readily available.
Brunswick County Sheriff John W. Ingram V said combining forces with the FBI in this multi-agency effort will enable their investigations to go beyond borders and is a “major step forward” in fighting the heroin epidemic that is plaguing the region.
“We knew that we had to address this problem and the only way to do it was to work together. And we have a focused effort on stopping the major traffickers from bringing in heroin into this region,” Ingram said.
New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon said the task force has already worked six cases, some of which were conducted in school zones. Though the task force has already has some success, Ingram said that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Both Ingram and McMahon stressed the task force’s objective of finding and tracking the supply and source of heroin coming into the Cape Fear region is helping law enforcement be more defensive in the epidemic.
“We’re looking forward to really making a dent in this heroin problem and going after the dealers,” McMahon said about the effort. “Criminals don’t have any jurisdictional limits. And now, neither do we.”
Ben David said the effort is sending a clear message to criminals that there is “nowhere to run [and] nowhere to hide.” Adding to that, Jon David said the new reach of theses local investigations and the prosecution of those cases is now unlimited.
“Our reach…it stretches not only around the United States but across the world because [the] poppy is not grown in the United States. And so we are going to be looking at the source and supply and how that impacts us here in the Cape Fear region,” Jon David said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Cooley said much of the heroin in southeastern North Carolina is coming from Mexico or Colombia. The heroin is first taken north to New York or New Jersey and then trickles into the region, many times making the trek south through the I-95 corridor.
Both federal and state prosecutors at Thursday’s news conference agreed that they will work to have heroin suppliers found outside of the state of North Carolina as a result of task force investigations extradited here to face charges and prosecution.
Cases that are brought forward for prosecution as a result of this task force can be tried in either federal or state court. Authorities said they will be taking all avenues of prosecution into consideration and seeking those options where a defendant would face the maximum punishment for the crime.