$182,700 WORTH OF DRUGS INTERCEPTED AT POST OFFICE
In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, many illicit drugs, particularly crystal meth, are now coming from the U.S. mainland and are smuggled into the CNMI through mail and packages at the U.S. Post Office, according to two CNMI officials.
At a news briefing at the Division of Customs last Friday, Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig and Customs director Jose Mafnas Sr. also disclosed that the current street value of “ice” in the CNMI is now at $600 per gram, which is very high, indicating that the supply is low.
Atalig, Mafnas, and Customs planner and public information officer Reina C. Camacho highlighted these points in disclosing Customs’ interception of over 300 grams of meth or “ice” and other illicit drugs at the U.S. Post Office in Chalan Kanoa in the last 45 days.
They said cocaine and LSD were among the other illicit drugs that were being imported via mail.
They estimated that the 239.5 grams of “ice” intercepted last October and the 65 grams that were seized last September had a combined street value of $182,700
Most illicit drugs in the CNMI used to be smuggled from China.
In fiscal year 2020, Customs intercepted 1,072.71 grams of “ice” worth $643,626, and seized 1,492 grams of marijuana. The total street value of the confiscated marijuana was not indicated.
Manfas said that Customs was already intercepting drugs at the post office in the last four to five weeks but they did not move in immediately as they wanted to make sure that “we make an arrest and not just confiscate the drugs.”
With the assistance of their partners in law enforcement, federal and local, Mafnas said they waited until people claimed their package and then from there they made the arrests.
“Now that there are people who’ve been arrested for this, we want to share this information with the public,” Mafnas said.
Besides illicit drugs, Customs also seized several counterfeit goods. Because the CNMI Customs Division in a member of the OCEANIA Customs organization, they’re committed to going after fake goods entering the CNMI.
He said all these interceptions at the post office wouldn’t have been successful if it weren’t for the assistance and the cooperation of the U.S. Postal Office and the U.S. Postal Inspectors Service. “I am so grateful to the postmaster, Mr. Harry Wilcox, and his staff for cooperating and assisting us,” he said.
Whenever Customs officers examine the mail—not opening it but just examining it—and if there’s anything suspicious about the mail, the mail is placed on hold. “That mail is not going to be put in the mailbox, only the yellow card. So when the owner of that mail comes to pick it up, that’s when we do the full inspection. And then if we discover any illicit contraband, that’s when we make an arrest,” Mafnas said.
He said the interception of 239.5 grams of “ice” at the post office was from one package and one of their biggest seizures so far.
Mafnas said they made more than one arrest and the suspects are now facing charges in court.
For counterfeit goods, Camacho said items seized had the brands Gucci, Nike, and other names. He said the counterfeit goods were intercepted at the seaport and airport.
Mafnas said that, according to the CNMI Drug Enforcement Task Force and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force, their information is that the “ice” supply in the CNMI is very low. “It’s like the bottom of the barrel,” Mafnas said.
Mafnas said that, based on his experience, the illegal drugs are coming from all ports, that’s why all the ports, including those on Tinian and Rota, are fully manned.
Atalig said they have Customs officers at the post office and even at smaller branches to ensure that even the presence of the officers speaks of the continued fight against drugs.
“Obviously due to COVID, they’re trying to mail it to multiple addresses and as well as to multiple individuals, some as a test to see if it goes through, until the bigger amounts coming in,” Atalig said.
He said they’re keeping an eye even on the small amounts.
Mafnas said the drug of choice in the CNMI is still “ice” and that all the drugs they’ve been intercepting right now are coming from the U.S. mainland.
Mafnas said there is a daily mail service, in contrast to the low volume of cargo coming from China these days.
Atalig said there is less shipment leaving Asian countries during pandemic whereas there’s no pause in commerce or mail in the U.S. mainland.
“So we have, in fact, a high number or orders coming in from outside vendors. There’s a lot more activity being done online and using the mail,” he said.
Atalig said those are probably contributing reasons why they are seeing the drug smuggling activity coming in from the mainland versus the Asian countries.
He thanked the Customs Division for its “outstanding work in intercepting these illicit drugs.
“Not only are we fighting the pandemic. We’re also fighting this war on drugs and we want to keep these items [out],” Atalig said.
He said the price of “ice” in the CNMI now is high, which is an indicator of the “great job that we’re doing here at Customs.”