Thursday, April 8, 2010

Officers On Lookout For Drug Stash Houses

By John Larson

SOCORRO – The problem of illegal drug usage – methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and marijuana - has been keeping officers of law enforcement agencies busy throughout Socorro and Catron counties. Highway 60 to the Arizona border and Interstate 25 coming up from the border with Mexico have bee popular routes for transporting large amounts of marijuana, meth, heroin, and cocaine.
But Socorro Police Detective Richard Lopez told the Mountain Mail highway stops and local dealer arrests are only two elements to decreasing the use, and sale, of illegal narcotics.
“It takes the public to help,” he said. “If it is nothing more than just reporting unusual late night activity at a house in their neighborhood. People, cars coming and going.”
Lopez said that is one indication of drug dealing.
Lopez said one trend for drug smugglers is to establish “stash houses,” where a large shipments of marijuana, heroin, and cocaine can be hidden for weeks, months, or even years.
“These people will pay a year’s rent for a house where the big shipments can be stored,” he said. “Then they will take smaller amounts form that stash to transport to other areas of the country.
Lopez said the stash houses are usually in more upscale neighborhoods. “Those less likely to have break-ins,” he said.
In one such house that had aroused suspicion, the drug dealers had dug through the concrete floor of a garage.
“They made themselves a space where they could store different packages of cocaine and other narcotics,” he said. “It was discovered when an officer noticed the screws on a heater vent in the house had the paint knocked off the screws. They removed the heater vent and found several strings marked with tags.”
The other end of the strings were tied to the separate packages under the garage.
“There was a passageway under the house the packages were pulled through,” Lopez said. “it was very elaborate.”
According to the El Paso, Texas, Police Department web site, stash house occupants tend to keep to themselves and they will not normally be visible on a daily basis; and they will not appear to hold a regular job, or have a "normal" pattern of lifestyle.
Different types of vehicles, especially vans and pickup trucks, will enter and exit the garage at different hours of the day or night. Neighbors may not see anyone at the stash house for several days or weeks and then there will be a lot of activity at the house.
The vehicles arriving at the stash house will have different license plates on them, including, Texas, New Mexico, Mexico with paper "buyer" or "dealer" tags. They may also use these license plates interchangeably with all of the vehicles.
There also may be an accumulation of advertisement material on the front door and/or trash in the home or yard.
Lopez said the problem for drug smugglers is to sneak past drug checkpoints, “but once they get north of the checkpoint zones in southern New Mexico, Texas, Arizona or California, they can take their load to any stash house, anywhere in the United States. There are no more checkpoints in the entire country.”
Lopez said curtailing illegal drug in Socorro is “an uphill battle.
“But we are not going to give up,” he said. “We are working on cases constantly. The result is to make our city, and country, a safer place.”

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