When police announced the seizure of $1 million worth of methamphetamine in Douglas County earlier this week, the case was remarkable because it was the largest meth bust ever in the area.
But, though it often goes unremarked, large amounts of cash, drugs, and guns have been seized from homes in Lawrence in previous cases by a special unit within law enforcement tasked with such investigations.
The details and scope of the raids are typically shrouded from public view, but court documents show that local drug enforcement officers have carried out at least six search warrants on Lawrence residences over the past year, in which they seized about $70,000 in cash, as well as 10 guns.
As in the case of last week’s high-dollar methamphetamine seizure, authorities typically decline to discuss the operations of the Douglas County Drug Enforcement Unit, citing the protection of undercover officers and the needs of long-term investigations, according to Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman.
When the unit's police officers and sheriff's deputies seize drugs and cash in the course of such investigations, they often do not immediately arrest suspects or make any information public. Instead, it could be months or years before the police action results in a major federal case.
Until then, much of the unit's activities will be closed to public view, as investigative documents supporting search warrants and arrests are not open records in Kansas, unlike elsewhere in the country. Some of these raids become public record when charges are filed, or when the drug enforcement unit makes a civil case in Douglas County District Court to seize cash that officers confiscated as alleged drug proceeds.
Money, guns and drugs
Among the larger cases this year, the unit seized $23,866 in cash from an apartment in the 900 block of Indiana St. on Feb. 7 after searching the residence on suspicion of marijuana dealing, according to court documents. One man at the residence is now facing a felony charge involving the alleged drug proceeds.
In some cases, as in the seizure a year ago of $7,402 in alleged marijuana-dealing proceeds, plus a Sig Sauer 40-caliber handgun, from a home in the 1300 block of E. 13th St., charges may be filed locally and dropped. In other cases, charges aren’t immediately filed even when the evidence appears to be compelling.
During a search of a residence in the 2600 block of W. Sixth St. this past December, officers discovered two pounds of ecstasy and methamphetamine and seized two handguns along with $9,274 in cash. A man and a woman living at the residence have not been arrested or charged, but the Kansas Department of Revenue did serve both of them with a tax warrant demanding $356,400 in unpaid taxes on alleged marijuana dealing.
Elsewhere in Douglas County this year, the unit seized $5,929 and a 9mm handgun after confiscating $12,762 in cash and seven guns, including shotguns, rifles and handguns, from unidentified locations last November.
According to state law, the investigating agency that seized the property keeps it, if the case is not contested in court, as in these examples. The agency is first required to publish notice of the seizures in the local newspaper of record, as the Douglas County unit does in the Journal-World.
Watching and waiting
Whether some of these cases might be part of a much larger case isn’t known, and authorities prefer not to comment on ongoing investigations. Some, like a Lawrence resident caught with $25,376 in cash at his home in the 1300 block of Jana Drive in 2011, might spend nearly two years in court before pleading no contest to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
Other cases, like last week’s seizure of almost 25 pounds of methamphetamine, could be part of a larger drug investigation meant for federal prosecution. Last year, an investigation by local and federal law enforcement went on for more than a year before leading to the arrests and convictions of several Lawrence residents in an alleged marijuana ring linking Lawrence with Northern California. That case still is ongoing in federal court.
Often, the delay in such cases stems from investigators’ hope that suspects, once implicated in a criminal case, will cooperate with authorities in hopes of reduced sentences or favorable plea agreements.
In the meantime, any drug dealers associated with such activities can only do the same as the rest of us: wait to see what happens.