Drive for Anti-Drug Financing Bolstered

Times Staff Writer

Top federal law enforcement officials, whose Los Angeles offices are battling an explosion of local drug trafficking, joined the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday in pushing for more dollars and manpower to combat the burgeoning drug trade.

The heads of the local offices of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. attorney’s office combined forces with the Sheriff’s Department in a rare display of public unity as they crusaded for additional resources.

The law enforcement officials backed a board measure calling for a vigorous lobbying campaign by Congress and the Bush Administration to free more money for Los Angeles, amid complaints that the county has been victimized by an Eastern bias in allocating federal funds.


“We are saying Los Angeles County is being shortchanged in the allocation of federal resources. That’s our main thrust,” board Chairman Ed Edelman said.

‘Eastern Tilt’

“We’re talking about an Eastern tilt,” said Supervisor Deane Dana, who wrote the measure that won unanimous support from the board.

Although it was unclear just how effective the campaign would be, the supervisors agreed to press Congress and the Administration, including federal drug czar William Bennett, to shift manpower, technological resources and money to “those areas of highest drug abuse and trafficking activity,” including Los Angeles County.

The county has seen skyrocketing drug statistics over the last decade, said Assistant Sheriff Jerry Harper, who called Los Angeles “a beachhead for this (drug) invasion.” Harper told board members that in 1979, sheriff’s deputies had seized 59 pounds of cocaine and made 1,151 cocaine-related arrests. By contrast, deputies confiscated 6,068 pounds of cocaine in 1988 and arrested 13,500 people for possession of cocaine alone, he said.

Harper joined his federal counterparts Tuesday in warning supervisors that local law enforcement resources are already strained in the avalanche of drug-related cases--and such related activities as money-laundering.

“This dramatic increase of drug activity has really stretched DEA . . . to the breaking point trying to keep pace with the problem,” said John Zienter, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Los Angeles office.


Huge Volume

The sheer amount of drugs, Zienter said, can be viewed in the recent seizure of $80 million in drugs in one case alone. And he warned that Los Angeles has not only become a major center for cocaine and crack but looms as the principal point-of-entry for a growing trade in Southeast Asian heroin.

Despite that activity, however, Zienter pointed out that only 83 of his office’s 188 agents now operate in Los Angeles County, compared to 314 DEA agents working out of the New York City office and 341 agents in a Miami office responsible for the state of Florida.

When Supervisor Dana questioned him about the apparent disparity, Zienter told him that “the West Coast has not been heard politically the way the East Coast has” and said local officials need to be “twice as loud about our problems as those sitting in New York.”

Dana agreed as other federal officials voiced similar concerns about the lack of resources.

Lawrence G. Lawler, special agent in charge of the local FBI office, told supervisors that his office has added 38 agents, but he said the lack of resources has hamstrung some anti-drug operations. For example, he said local FBI and DEA agents have identified the 100 top Mexican drug cartels, but only four are being pursued because of the lack of manpower.

U.S. Atty. Robert Bonner said a highly publicized federal campaign to fight drugs in Washington should be matched in Los Angeles, which is “a principal supplier of the illegal drugs” in the nation’s capital and other cities.

“It seems to me that the sound strategy would be to devote significant resources to the root or heart of the problem, and that--for cocaine, crack and PCP or what have you--would be the metropolitan Los Angeles area,” Bonner said.

But Bill Alden, a DEA spokesman in Washington, said that despite the growing prominence of Los Angeles and Southern California in the cocaine trade, more cocaine is still smuggled through Miami than any other local area.

Alden also said budget restrictions not bias has determined the allocation of drug enforcement resources.

“Unfortunately, we have a tough decision to make. I can’t think of an area that can’t use more help,” Alden said. “But unfortunately, because of the budget situations we have to live with, we don’t have the luxury to put additonal agents everywhere. We have to prioritize what we have.”