Monday, April 9, 2007

Law & Order, South Bend, Mexico, Patience and Extradition

blogged by my husband, Arthur Ruger to Willapa Magazine

from an article published in Seattle PI
Fugitive's capture turned into mission.

For 13 years, accused drug kingpin eluded the law -- until last week

I took this picture last year from out the back door at the office where I work in South Bend.

About 50 yards from that door the Willapa River flows from my right westward to Willapa Bay, less than 3 miles away.

Almost in the center of the photo on the river's left bank you can see the large bright roof of what is now South Bend Packers, a seafood processor.

That's the "fishhouse with no ice" mentioned in the story.

[Excerpts] and my comments.

Friday, April 6, 2007

He was the most prolific hashish smuggler the Northwest has ever seen, say U.S. marshals and federal investigators.

For years, they say, Jeffery Jay Warren orchestrated the rapid movement of the drug from Southeast Asia by ocean freighters, a fleet of Willapa Bay "fishing" boats and trucks. Tons of the illicit cargo were hauled through Washington en route to East Coast and Canadian markets.

... A coast-to-coast bust in 1994 nailed most of Warren's operatives -- but he managed to elude capture. Since then, a copy of Warren's wanted poster slowly yellowed on the bulletin board in the Marshals Service's Seattle office.

... His pursuers chased down tantalizing rumors of the kingpin's whereabouts: his favorite haunts, the luxury resort towns in coastal Mexico where he was reputed to be taking residence. The trail led investigators across the globe. There was evidence that Warren had been traveling extensively in South America and Europe. He apparently liked being near the ocean and in warm climates.

... He's now sitting in a jail cell in Mexico City facing extradition to the U.S. -- and a possible life sentence.

... When the indictment was handed down in 1994, 16 people -- including Warren -- were charged in connection with the drug-smuggling ring.

Two years earlier, federal agents had estimated the ring had moved 40 tons of hashish through the fishing port of South Bend in southwest Washington. The estimated wholesale value: $120 million.

... "These guys had been dumping big loads for at least four years," Lanier said.

He called them "old hippies," now in their mid- to late-50s, who had been smuggling marijuana and hashish into the country since the 1970s.

But the smugglers had their act together. Using fishing boats and an old fishing dock and warehouse at the head of Willapa Bay as a false front, Warren's team of ship captains, deckhands, truck drivers and radio operators moved the drugs from ocean freighters sitting hundreds of miles off the coast to waiting semis. Within a week, the drugs would be in New York.

Everyone I spoke to who lived in the area at that time remembers this big drug bust. Several chuckled when they said that the local police had no clue what was going on because the tight-lipped Feds weren't telling nobody nothing.

Others however thought that locally there was some other problem where the county knew what was up but didn't tell the city of South Bend or something like that. Either way, it doesn't seem to have been much the local's show.

Locals thought the fishhouse with no ice was odd but didn't ask many questions. The strangers paid for the equipment and service with crisp $100 bills.

That fishhouse is not much more than 1/4 mile from my office and I've been walking to it as part of the exercise regimen I use during my breaks now for a couple of months.

A co-worker said that as a teenage she went walking in the evening with her mother and sister past that ice-less fishhouse every night and they thought it was not only strange with no ice, but also strangely mysterious in that lighting was either absence or seriously restricted for a warehouse doing late-night and early-morning fishing operations.

She also remembered learning that there was a house up on the hill above the riverbank that was always dark but from which the crooks had been keeping lookout with with binoculars while watching for Coast Guard vessels and law enforcement.

"The (fishing) market was bad and anyone who came in and wanted to make a go of it got treated real good," said Jerry Benning, retired Pacific County sheriff. In 1994, Benning was the local law enforcement contact for the federal agents who raided the warehouse.

"By the time we got there, there was nothing but empty sacks," Benning recalled.

Which makes more sense than a city police department totally kept in the dark about something like this. My own impression is that the locals had the more difficult local job in keeping a lid on the whole activity long enough for the Feds to make their move.

...Cash-filled suitcases

Speed and deception was at the core of Warren's operation.

His group could unload 45 tons of drugs in an evening and have it in and out of Washington in less then 12 hours, authorities say.

U.S. Highway 101 runs right through South Bend North-to-South. As it has always been, day or night, it is not surprising to see semi-trucks backing refrigerated trailers into one of several fishhouse docks or pulling out with them and heading off up the road.

The group would send out decoy fishing boats so the Coast Guard wouldn't know which boat to track, said Fran Dyer, a retired agent from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, who started working on the Warren case in the early 1990s.

"They were very good fishermen, but there is a hell of a lot more money to be made in moving 50,000 pounds of hashish in one night than fishing," Dyer said.

There wasn't anything in the article that indicated how many, if any, of those originally arrested in the raid were locals to Pacific County. But as an alternative to the shrinking seafood markets that have continually gotten smaller and smaller, I can see a few easy recruits responding to another more lucrative way to put food on the table, keep the roof overhead and include perhaps some genuine excitement.

40 tons of hashish?

May it would have been like Pacific County's West Coast version of moonshine.

Maybe the feds should have used this to help out:

Grampus or Pike on the Willapa River, at Raymond, Washington, circa 1912.
The A class subs were fitted with a bow fairing to improve sea keeping, this can be seen by the dark shadow area forward of the conning tower.
Both submarines were placed in reserve in 1912 at Bremerton. This photo was probably taken on the trip up the coast to Bremerton. The stern of the USS Chattanooga can be seen in front of the sub.

Photo provided by Steve Hubbard of the Pacific County Historical Society , Washington State

From Through the looking glass: a photo essay of submarines 1900-1940

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