Seizures of Drug Cash in L.A. Top Miami for 1st Time

Times Staff Writer

Federal and local narcotics agents seized more than $100 million in cash and arrested more than 90,000 people on drug charges in Los Angeles during the last year, officials said last week.

They also seized about 15 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $5 billion.

The cash seizures and the total number of arrests--most of them related to the flood of cocaine pouring into Los Angeles--were the highest ever in the city.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration alone seized more than $50 million in cash from drug dealers in the Los Angeles region--$8 million more than DEA seizures in Miami.


Cash Take Doubles

The Los Angeles Police Department seized $35 million, twice as much as it seized in 1987, while the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department seized roughly $34 million, an increase of about 30%.

Despite the record number of arrests and the staggering amounts of cash seized in drug raids, officials said the developments essentially reflected the continuing emergence of Los Angeles as one of the nation’s two major cocaine distribution centers.

While the cash seizures in Los Angeles topped Miami for the first time, the total volume of cocaine seized here was roughly half the amount taken by authorities in the Miami area.

DEA officials in Washington said that Miami remains the nation’s major cocaine transshipment center, but noted that roughly 40% of the cocaine now entering the United States is being shipped into the Los Angeles area.

“For all practical purposes, the two cities are equal,” one official said. “The price of cocaine is actually lower in Los Angeles than (in) Miami by about $2,000 a kilo, one indication that there is more of the drug in L.A. than in Florida.” A kilo of coke here fetches about $14,000.

While DEA and Sheriff’s Department cocaine seizures increased in 1988, LAPD seizures actually declined from 13,000 pounds in 1987 to about 10,500 pounds. Officials said the volume was so high in both years, however, that the decline had little significance.

‘That Was Big Stuff’

“The amazing thing, I think, is that in the last three years we have seized 37,000 pounds of cocaine,” said Deputy LAPD Chief Glenn Levant, head of all narcotics operations. “In 1982, before cocaine became epidemic, we seized 359 pounds. That was big stuff in 1982. We have had a 2,800% increase since then.”

The LAPD made a total of 57,651 drug arrests in 1988, Levant said. That was an increase of 5.4% over 1987 and a 114% increase over the total of 26,966 drug arrests for 1982.

“A lot of those arrests were the result of our increased focus on street dealers,” Levant said. Officers arrested 10,849 street dealers, including 4,037 gang members. They filed charges in 98% of those cases and obtained a 96% conviction rate, he said.

In contrast to the LAPD, the Sheriff’s Department reported a 25% increase in its cocaine seizures for 1988--about 6,000 pounds compared to 4,500 pounds in 1987. The department also arrested about 30,000 people on drug charges, roughly 40% of them cocaine-related.

“It’s really just a continuation of 1987,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Rudy Lovio. “Because of increased enforcement efforts, there are more arrests and more cocaine seizures. In 1989, we will be focusing on the users themselves more than ever before. So the figures will probably go higher.”

Lovio said plans include using more reverse sting operations against users, in which undercover deputies sell to the public. He also said plans could include setting up “crack houses” in which deputies would lure buyers, then arrest them.

In addition to the amount of cocaine seized by the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department, DEA agents seized about 2,000 pounds of the drug in Los Angeles in 1988. On top of the $50 million in cash that was seized by the DEA, another $20 million in real estate and automobiles was confiscated.