$15K worth of cocaine and ecstasy seized at post office

Illegal drugs hidden inside box of cookie mix

A routine inspection made by CNMI Division of Customs officers in one of the packages at the United States Postal Office in Chalan Kanoa resulted in the seizure of cocaine and ecstasy pills last May.

The bust had an estimated value of about $15,000 with the 65 grams of cocaine pegged at $10,000, while the 100 pieces of ecstasy have an estimated value of $5,000 or $50 per pill.

Customs director Jose Mafnas said this was part of their continued efforts in protecting the CNMI’s borders “Two months ago, during a routine inspection at the post office, our officers intercepted 65 grams of cocaine and 100 pills of ecstasy.”

“We tried some operation to catch the owner of the package but after weeks of controlled surveillance, we think the owner [was given a] tip. Good thing though that [the drugs] did not end up at anybody’s hands,” Mafnas told the media in yesterday’s press conference at the Governor’s Office conference room on Capital Hill.

Customs Captain Jesse Atalig said the package originated from Southern California with the sender trying to pass the contents as a brand of cookie mix destined to be picked up by a recipient on Saipan, who’s name wasn’t disclosed.

Private postal representatives pick up mail and other packages by their customers at the U.S. Post Office, and then put it inside the boxes that they rent. The customers then check their boxes daily for their mail.

Atalig said this is the first time that they discovered a package like this and added that Customs officials also check all outgoing packages at the CK post office, including those picked up by private postal boxes.

“It is addressed to the same individual but a lot of individuals use fictitious names. If you have connections with a private postal, you will get a phone call to get the package,” added Atalig.

“During inspection that is where we discovered the ecstasy and cocaine. The [officers] who made [the inspection] physically, they were not first sure so the [K-9 unit] dogs were called in and it was then verified, and we were alerted,” said Atalig.

He said they then used a field test kit where a piece of the seized contraband was dropped in one of their solution to determine if the contents are illegal substances. “It turned out to be positive.”

“This is the first time [that]this thing happened since the early or mid-’90s. They used Saipan as transshipment before like 20 kilos of cocaine going to Australia and China,” added Atalig.

Mafnas said that CNMI Customs has formed a partnership with the U.S. Postal Service in trying to keep the CNMI safe from illegal substances. “They did not know that we’re there, too [U.S. Post Office]. We have access to examine packages. Once they leave the post office, our authority kicks in. We are authorized to check.”

“Every port is adequately manned to ensure that none of this end up in the hands of our citizens. We are glad that we caught it early. Enforcement starts at the ports and that is how we monitor everything.”

Mafnas added these could be the transition of some drug users from crystal meth or “ice” to cocaine, but the former remains to have a great impact in the CNMI. “We are watchful for that. It is not to say that we are not concerned with crystal meth but we’re adding another type of drug into our watch.”

“Four years ago, the street value of crystal meth is $130 per gram, but we spoke to one of the officers—working with informants—the word is that it shot up to $1,200 per gram. The word out on the street, based on the informant, is the CNMI is dry. So we are making an impact and we know that the programs that we are implementing now are working.”

Always on their toes

Mafnas lauded the enforcement programs they had put in place, through the support of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Finance Secretary Larissa Larson. “We’re doing a lot of major reforms and practices. Secretary Larson is always working behind the scenes; she always pushes us to move forward and is actively working with us.

“Thank you governor, secretary, and the Customs staff that are working with me to make sure our borders are protected, the revenue is collected, and we keep on doing what we do best.”

He said they would follow the directive given to them by Torres to the letter. “Our message to drug smugglers: we are fully manned, fully equipped, and we are trained to protect our borders. We will never let out guards down and we will continue to do our best in protecting the gates to the CNMI at all ports of entry at all costs.”

“That is the directive I got from the governor because he understands. Two years ago, when we had a meeting, he supports Customs among all law enforcements in our efforts at the ports. If you choke the ports of entry and not allow any illegal narcotics or dangerous weapons to enter, it would not result to drug related crimes.”

Torres also lauded the work done by all Customs officials. “Thank for all the hard work and continuing to do it. If you choke the entry and put our dedication in removing 80 percent of drugs from entering, then [the Department of Public Safety] will only have 20 percent of work on the street. It will be less families, 20 percent, that we need to focus on.”

“I support [all law enforcement agencies] but we need to support Customs since it alleviates the work of DPS. Instead of focusing on 80 percent of drug-related incidents, let’s focus on other issues because Customs is focused on eliminating and reducing the entry of drugs.”

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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