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Big Bend area law enforcement, DEA plan ahead while COVID-19 border closures disrupt cartel trafficking

Posted at 6:17 PM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-07 14:52:36-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Cracking down on drug trafficking in the Big Bend area is getting support from our federal government bringing the head of the DEA, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, and small-town sheriffs together

"Drug trafficking directly affects the safety and security of all of us," said Timothy Shea, the acting administrator for the DEA.

The help from the DEA is targeting Franklin and Leon Counties.

"Probably every sheriff that you see here has had and continues to have a meth problem in their county," said AJ Smith, the Franklin County Sheriff. "We couldn't have impacted the meth trade like we have without the help of the U.S. attorney office and DEA."

Sheriff Smith says many assume meth is made locally. He says it isn't. Those drugs are coming from across the border.

The partnership with DEA and the county will keep a close eye on drugs coming in from Mexico and monitor drugs that could be coming through Leon County on I-10.

"We talked about technique, we talked about strategy," said Lawrence Keefe, the United States Attorney Northern District of Florida. "More importantly, we had dialogue from the top on down to me and my colleagues who are my brethren Sheriffs. I can't go into much detail about going forward, but we talked about past successes and where we are now. All kind of got on the same page."

The U.S. and Mexico entered a joint initiative in March restricting non-essential travel along the U.S.-Mexico land border to prevent the coronavirus spread.

"In 2019 alone, Mexican cartels shipped hundreds of thousands of pounds of methamphetamine in tractor-trailers, and personal vehicles across the southwest borders onto the highways of this country," Shea said.

The coronavirus is slowing down shipments this year.

"The border is effectively closed in many instances right now," said Shea. "We've seen a disruption in the trafficking pattern of the cartel as a result of that."

It's giving the DEA and sheriffs a chance to plan.

"We are preparing for what we will see in the future, which is a flood of drugs into the United States when the border opens up, and we get back to normal," Shea said.

The DEA has a presence in Leon County, but money and additional resources from another federal agency are helping out here.