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November 14, 2013

Host: José Cárdenas

Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Phoenix Division

  |   Video
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Phoenix Division Doug Coleman, talks to Horizonte host Josè Càrdenas about what is being done to stop Mexican drug cartels and fight the war on drugs in Arizona.
  • Doug Coleman - Phoenix Special Agent in Charge DEA Phoenix Division, Drug Enforcement Administration
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: drug enforcement, DEA, arizona ,

View Transcript
José Cárdenas: The Sinaloa Cartel is the most powerful drug trafficking organization in Mexico and the largest operating in Arizona, and is currently responsible for the majority of all drugs crossing the border into Arizona. With me to talk about the Mexican cartels and more is Doug Coleman, the Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in charge of the Phoenix division. Doug, welcome to "Horizonte."

Doug Coleman: Thanks for having me.

José Cárdenas: On the cartels, first of all, give us a description of the Sinaloa Cartel and what they're doing in Arizona and what's going on in Mexico as they fight with the rival gangs.

Doug Coleman: The Sinaloa Cartel was the most power drug cartel in the world. They control the vast majority of the narcotics that are coming into the United States through Arizona. There continues to be a fight between the Sinaloa Cartel and other cartels for control of different ports of entry, but right now the Sinaloa Cartel is still strong, still the most significant threat to drug trafficking in the United States.

José Cárdenas: They've been hit even read periodically over the last couple years about the Mexican government, particularly the naval forces, taking out some of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, and others as well. Has that had an impact? Have you seen any diminution in the level of activity?

Doug Coleman: Every time a key cartel figure is taken out a key leader, there's a void in leadership. What's ended up happening is the other cartels will make a move on those locations where that leader has been taken out, to try to gain control, and that's the main reason that you see the significant violence that you see in Mexico. It's warring between the cartels for different activity and different control of different areas.

José Cárdenas: Continue to focus on the Mexican government and the cartels, new administration made it a point during the election to deemphasize the war on drugs, on drug trafficking, rather. And it seemed like that was a positive, at least for the Mexican populous. They were tired of the killings and violence. Over the last year or so, the attitude seems to have changed, but has it been dramatic?

Doug Coleman: I think what you see is you see a new president coming in who's going to deemphasize what they call the war on drugs, and emphasize violence. The reality is that the two intertwine. While he is changing some things we still have the positive relationship with the new administration and we still have a lot of interaction with them and joint operations going on, because you cannot separate drugs and violence. They're intertwined.

José Cárdenas: There was a suggestion and concerns on the American side as I understand it that the level of cooperation with the Mexicans would go down, and the activity of American agents in Mexico would be diminished.

Doug Coleman: Like any new administration coming in, he still is deciding how exactly it is they're going to cooperate with us. The prior administration, the Calderón Administration was in government for six years so we had a firmly established relationship with them. I think we're feeling each other out between us and the new administration, but I think the positive things are happening and will continue to happen between the U.S. government, DEA and Mexican government.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about the cartels in Arizona. What kind of activity do you see and where?

Doug Coleman: Arizona is a key transshipment point. The majority of the drugs the cartels controls use Phoenix as a stash location to be moved throughout the United States. We're a key figure in the key port in what happens because everything comes here first. And from here it's going to other places. We're the first stop for the cartels. Command and control actually deals with the leadership in Mexico, is in Arizona. So this is where they're very vulnerable for us to take them out. We're the first stop before it gets distributed throughout the United States.

José Cárdenas: What kind of drugs are we talking about?

Doug Coleman: In Arizona our major threats are marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine.

José Cárdenas: When you talk about command and control, another operations in Arizona, how many people are we talking about? What kind of force do they have here?

Doug Coleman: As I tell people all the time when they ask me that, if I knew where they were, I'd arrest all of them. We're not exactly positive. We know as soon as we identify them we go after them. So it's a significant foothold for them, but DEA, our local partners, everybody we're hammering them every day.

José Cárdenas: Has the situation improved, diminished? How would you assess where we are now as opposed to five years ago?

Doug Coleman: I think drug trafficking, I've been in this business 25 years. Drug trafficking ebbs and flows, different drugs get popular, different methods of smuggling come in, it's a continuous fight. The idea that we put on the -- a war on drugs, that puts an end game to it. There's not an end game, as long as criminals continue to violate the law, we'll always fight them. What you see is an ebb and flow. And we see that now. Different drugs become popular, we attack the way they move them, they adjust, we adjust, it's a constant battle.

José Cárdenas: Any significant changes? You've been here in Arizona for six years. Any significant changes over that six year period?

Doug Coleman: We're seeing a significant change that bothers me as a parent, as an Arizonan, there's a significant rise in the amount of heroin coming into this country. And it's through Arizona is one of the main ports directly related to an increase in prescription drug abuse by young people in the country.

José Cárdenas: And explain that. We talked a little bit about it offline. Why is that? What's the connection?

Doug Coleman: I think there's a perception among young people if a doctor prescribes something or you can get it from a drug manufacturer, that it's OK and it's not bad for you. But the reality is, prescription drugs are the same thing as street drugs, they just have a fancy bottle and a fancy name. Young people believe oxycontin, Percocet, that they're OK because doctor has written the prescription for mom and dad. The reality is, those drugs are opiate-based, the same thing as heroin. What we have is younger people getting addicted to prescription drugs, and when the prescription runs out, they're opiate addicts. The next logical step for them if they can't get the prescription is street heroin.

José Cárdenas: And the heroin is coming across the border from Mexico?

Doug Coleman: The Mexican cartels have noticed, and they're smart businessmen, they realize there's an increasing demand for heroin because of the increasing population among young addicts. So they're increasing the heroin that comes into the country. They’re increasing their movement of heroin to try to meet that demand.

José Cárdenas: I've also read some of the heroin is coming -- Originating in Afghanistan and Syria as means of financing activities there.

Doug Coleman: We don't see a lot of that heroin in this part of the country, but Afghanistan heroin is a small portion that comes into the United States, but it is used to funnel drug trafficking proceeds to fund terrorist activities. Mostly in other parts of the world, Europe has a significant Asian heroin problem. We see a little bit on the East Coast, we don’t see a lot of Asian heroin in Arizona.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk now about another problem that's affecting particularly young people that is the synthetic drugs. You had a major operation recently, tell us about that.

Doug Coleman: The synthetic drug problem is an emerging problem. The drug flow ebbs and flows all the time. The emergence of synthetics comes back to the same perception that young people have that we talked about with the prescription drugs. People believe that if it's sold over the counter at a store, it's OK. So we have these manufacturers who acquire these substances, and they can -- They're not specifically outlawed, so they've put them into head shops and they're selling them as bath salts or spice, K2, they're marijuana and methamphetamine mimics. So they have virtually the same effect as marijuana or methamphetamine, but they're being sold legally in a loophole in the law. Kids, again, believe this the substance OK because it's being sold and we as police are not stopping it from being sold, so they're going to get addicted to these substances. Log Jam the case you talked about, we took off --

José Cárdenas: We’ve got pictures as we're talking about that operation.

Doug Coleman: Log Jam was a nationwide DEA-led investigation. Here in Arizona we had 12 different locations with head shops that were selling the K2, spice, bath salt products. And as a result of that, we seized thousands of pounds of K2 and spice products, millions of dollars and put a lot of those retail businesses out of business and got some convictions behind it as well. That particular -- our section was 12 warrants throughout Arizona but it was a nationwide effort that resulted in hundreds of warrants and millions of dollars and millions of pounds of products seized.

José Cárdenas: We had a picture of one of the locations where agents raided Camelback Liquors I think. My understanding is this unlike the Mexican cartels, which are very organized in major operations, this is vast; mom and pop type of operation.

Doug Coleman: There are significant -- There are a few significant manufacturers who then sell to all of these head shops. The manufacturing is mostly done domestically. You can acquire the active ingredient, the actual drug from sources in China and India, it comes in as a very simple process to make it, and then it can be sold from these major manufacturing locations in strip malls to the head shops around town.

José Cárdenas: And we have a couple more pictures of the results basically of the raids. What are we looking at right here on the screen?

Doug Coleman: Those pictures will be small pictures of some of the samples that we took from the different locations. The K2 and spice products are sold almost like marijuana, in little small bins, and they're all manufactured and they're marketed so that young people are attracted to them. They put different flavorings on them; it's all to try to suck young people into buying these products. Those pictures are samples that we took.

José Cárdenas: Summarize briefly the results of Operation Log Jam.

Doug Coleman: Operation Log Jam, we seized several thousand pounds of K2 and spice products, which are the marijuana mimics. We seized several hundred pounds of bath salts, which is the methamphetamine mimic. We arrested about 18 people if I remember correctly, seized a couple million dollars worth of assets, and took out about 12 different locations around Phoenix that were selling these products.

José Cárdenas: One last thing I want to address are the myths about these synthetic drugs. Kids think they're harmless, they think they're legal, and they think they're not detectable by the kinds of tests that employers might do for a job application. None of that is true.

Doug Coleman: Right. They're not harmless. These are drug mimics. They have the same chemical effects the drugs they're supposedly mimics. So they’re obviously not harmless. They’re certainly are not legal, there was a loophole in the law that allowed them to sell these initially when we saw the abuse pattern, DEA regulated some of the substance, many states including Arizona have passed legislation to outlaw these substances. So they're no longer legal and they're certainly not a way to beat a drug test.

José Cárdenas: Doug Coleman Special Agent in charge Phoenix division DEA, thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about this very, very serious problem.

Doug Coleman: Thank you.

Project H3 VETS

  |   Video
  • Project H3 VETS is a community collaboration coordinated by the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness. Project H3 VETS looks to identify and house homeless Veterans in Phoenix. Arizona Department of Veterans Services Homeless Veterans Services coordinator Sean Price and Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness and Project H3 VETS project manager Shane Groen talk about this initiative.
  • Sean Price - Veterans Services Coordinator, Arizona Department of Veterans Services
  • Shane Groen - Project Manager, Project H3 VETS and Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness
Keywords: homeless, veterans, community, initiative ,

View Transcript
José Cárdenas: Project H3 VETS is a partnership of the Arizona coalition to end homelessness. You will hear more about this project and the homeless epidemic among the local Veteran community from a couple of guests in a moment, but first here's Project H3 VETS at victory place a community for Veterans.

Project H3 VETS Clip:
Dexter/Veteran: I'm a kind of hands-on person. I like slicing, dicing, making things with my hands. Working with a world class chef. We're all in our 60s here. But we do the work like we're in our 20s. It's just great being around these people. I joined the military in 1969, and I served until 1973. It took me a long time to make all the mistakes I made and rebound, and make the mistakes again, and whatnot. But alcoholism is my forte. I was homeless three or four years. Without places like this, there's a lot of people that don't get the opportunity to clean themselves up and have a better life. These places are absolutely necessary.

Amanda/Supervisor: We have one individual living in a storage shed, one individual that was living under bridges. There's multiple people living under bridges and washes.

Shane/Coordinator: The guy that's sleeping under a bridge downtown and staying out of the way of everyone, and not going into the V.A. for services, those are the people that we're trying to house and get them off the streets and into permanent housing. Those are the ones that we've been targeting throughout this project. I think that definitely a lot of these guys would still be on the streets if it wasn't for this program. At a minimum, people that have risked everything to give us the freedom that we enjoy every day deserve to live in a home.

José Cárdenas: Joining me now is Sean Price, Statewide Homeless Coordinator for the Arizona Department of Veterans Services. Also here, Shane Groen. Shane is with the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness and the Project H3 VETS Project Manager. Welcome to "Horizonte." Shane, tell us first what H3 stands for.

Shane Groen: Home, health, and hope. Originally we had a project called H3 where we were housing chronically homeless individuals in downtown Phoenix. And Project H3 VETS was born out of that. We decided we wanted to house 75 chronically homeless, and after we did the 75 we started looking at the numbers and realizing that we could actually end chronic homelessness among veterans in Phoenix. So we've continued the project since then.

José Cárdenas: The Arizona Coalition effort is part of a nationwide effort as I understand it.

Shane Groen: 100,000 homes campaigned, correct.

José Cárdenas: In terms of your local activities, you're partnering with a bunch of people including the state. Tell us how that came to be.

Shane Groen: Just any project of this scale requires considerable amount of collaboration. You have to have community buy-in, so we have United Way, City of Phoenix, community bridges, the V.A. Health Care System in Phoenix, they're all tremendous partners and they make these type of things possible, because everyone has to be working together as one unit, breaking down barriers to serve this population because it's a very difficult population to serve.

José Cárdenas: Sean, you’re a relatively young man but in some ways you're the grandpa-pa of this effort in Arizona in dealing with this population. Tell us how that came to be.

Sean Price: As an individual?

José Cárdenas: Yes.

Sean Price: I got into the Department of Veterans Services as a Homeless Veterans Services Coordinator in roughly 2011, but as an intern prior to that with the department. My cohort and me Brad Bridwell, we developed Arizona action plan to end homelessness among veterans, which is our statewide plan. Based off that plan is where Project H3 VETS was born, our first goal of that plan was to end chronic homelessness among veterans and our initiative to do that in the Phoenix metro area is Project H3 VETS.

José Cárdenas: Help us get a sense of the scope of the problem. I've seen some of the materials; we talked about a homeless veteran population statewide that's about 1,200-1,250. And then you're focused on a subset.

Sean Price: Roughly 1,250 veterans are homeless at any given time in the state of Arizona. In the Phoenix metro area, that's roughly 50% of that 1,250. What you break down is the chronic part. That's your hardest to serve population that makes up a small percent of that roughly 600, I would say in the Phoenix metro area. And we've tracked that population through data sets, our biggest data set is our Arizona stand down we hold each year. What we saw there at the stand down is 222 chronically homeless veterans in and that's where we're basing our data on. That was our initial goal. Since then we've been housing out of that stand down in 2012 of that population. And right now to date I believe we have three move in today so we've housed to date.

José Cárdenas: And the definition of chronically homeless?

Sean Price: A chronically homeless veteran or individual, it comes out of HUD, and it's a person that's been homeless one year or more with a disabling condition that can be mental health, substance abuse, or physical disability. Or it's an individual that's been homeless four times in the last three years with a disabling condition as a chronic definition.

José Cárdenas: That's pretty significant. Most people who experience homelessness, it's a very transient situation.

Sean Price: Yeah. Most people, you could say roughly 80% of individuals that do become homeless, you're looking at roughly 27 days and they're out of homelessness. But when you get to the chronic, those are the individuals that other 20% that can't pull their selves out of homelessness due to some type of underlying condition. That's where that mental health or substance abuse or physical dish comes into play. And that's what is keeping them in the homelessness. And so projects like this are specialized in that population to target them with specialized resources and as Shane was saying, it takes a huge community of those resources to get this population served and into housing.

José Cárdenas: I think most people would think the focus on veterans is because we have all these people coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the population we're talking about of homeless veterans is actually from the Vietnam era.

Shane Groen: It's Vietnam era, and that is the chronic population, the majority of those guys are Vietnam era. And a lot of the guys we've housed have been homeless since the war. We've housed guys that have been homeless almost 50 years. The average is eight years homeless and we've seen a lot of guys from OEF, OiF are coming back and they still have their social supports in place, they have friends and family to rely on.

José Cárdenas: These are the more --

Shane Groen: The more recent veterans. The Vietnam veterans have kind of burned all those social supports and they've been alone for a long time and that makes them the hardest to serve. A lot of them are resistant in seeking out services, and that's where our peer supports come into play where they befriend these guys and tell them about different programs we might be able to help them with are and get them into the V.A. and enrolled and see what services they're eligible for.

José Cárdenas: As I understand it part of the reason why this would be particularly acute is many of the services they're now available, weren't available at the time they were getting out of the service.

Shane Groen: That's true. The V.A. system has made leap and strides in recognizing things like PTSD and other things that weren't recognized in that era. They're really focused on serving these guys that have been left out in the cold a long time.

José Cárdenas: I want to talk about some of the successes before we get into the details. We've got some pictures we want to put on the screen of some successes in housing the homeless. This one here, I think was this gentleman in the video we saw?

Shane Groen: This is not the same gentleman, but two gentlemen that we actually housed in accepted I believe, Walter and Steven. Great guys, doing well in housing. They're with their navigator Roberta and she checks on them regularly. All these barriers they run into after being on the streets and getting housing, a lot of times they have to relearn independent living skills that are very second nature to a lot of us. And those navigators help them maintain housing.

José Cárdenas: We're going to keep rolling pictures. While we're doing that, explain the role of the Navigator.

Shane Groen: They're advocates for the veterans, that's their sole purpose, to make sure they maintain housing and get what they need are in terms of health care, getting them to their primary care physician appointments instead of utilizing the E.R., which is the general M.O. of being on the streets as well as taking them grocery shopping, taking them to do their laundry if need be. They check in with their landlords regularly. Anything that could result in them losing their housing, they're there to support them and prevent that from happening.

José Cárdenas: It makes a pretty significant difference in terms of the success rate.

Shane Groen: It does. Nationally I believe the retention is around 80% for this population that we're serving, and we have a 94% retention after 20 months of the project. So we've been very successful in making sure they maintain their housing.

José Cárdenas: Sean, let's talk about the big event earlier this week, the announcements involving the city of Phoenix, the mayor making some commitments to get all of the homeless -- Chronically homeless veterans indoors by the end of this month.

Sean Price: I know. It's a big task, but what it came out of is the week of October, 18th and 19th, we had roughly 140 volunteers that went out for three mornings and did some street surveying to find out what chronically homeless veterans are still on the streets. And from that survey, we found that there was still 56 chronically homeless veterans on the streets in the Phoenix metro area. What we did from that point is we have already been in partnership with the city of Phoenix and mayor Stanton's office, and we took that to them saying, we're 56 away from ending chronic homelessness, we want to be the first city to do this, and they said what do you need? What came out of that is roughly $100 thousand, which the city council did vote and approve unanimously yesterday. And what that $100 thousand what we're going to do with that money is go out, find all of these homeless veterans and place them into bridge housing. From that point we'll work those veterans and get them into their own housing. So we held an event on Veterans Day at victory place three, and the mayor led that event, and what was also at that event was all the leaders within our community, including my director, director Ted Vogt, expressing the collaboration amongst everybody in the community to solve this challenge of homelessness among veterans. And we were surprised when senator McCain came to our event and spoke and gave his support for this initiative. So we'll take that money, we've already been working on finding those bridge units and we're starting to work on finding these veterans and place them. Our goal is by the end of this year by Christmas area is to have all 56 into housing, and then by February 2014 we will have housed all these veterans. And we can at that point claim what is called functional zero, so we're at a point now where there's no chronic homeless veterans left on the streets in Phoenix.

José Cárdenas: You talk about getting people into housing. There's been a lot of discussion recently about this being kind of a policy shift intended to have greater impact in terms of the needs of these veterans.

Sean Price: The shift is what we call housing first. And in the past, how it used to be is any homeless individual to get into a program or to get into housing program have you to be clean, sober and then they'd place them in housing. The shift now is called housing first, where we go out, find the chronically homeless veterans, pick them off the street and place them into their own apartment. Then once they're in their apartment and stabilized, we're able to wrap all those services around to help them with whatever is ailing them. It could be they have mental health or substance abuse, things of that nature, so we can bring the community in and help support those challenges that they face, and it's a proven national best practice that housing first does work. And it's the way to solve chronicle homelessness among our veterans.

José Cárdenas: We've put the phone number for your organization on the screen. How can people help and I realize you get these people that we're talking about into houses by the end of the month, there's still a lot of work left to be done.

Shane Groen: We always need support, whether it be financial, material goods we provide, even individuals when we move them in we make sure they have a full apartment of furniture, broom, mop, dishes, pots and pans, all those things we provide through the coalition. So financial donations are of course always welcome, but if you want to come in, volunteer, we always have projects that we're doing, whether it be the outreach events like Sean talked about going out and doing street surveys, or data entry, anything like that. So we welcome anyone that wants to help out, whether with labor or financial.

José Cárdenas: Sounds good. Shane Groen and Sean price, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."