Drug smugglers tried to bring marijuana worth tens of thousands of dollars into the Charleston area the easy way: by mailing it.
U.S. postal inspectors recently intercepted four separate packages that, combined, totaled nearly 46 pounds of weed. Charleston County sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Hodge, who is not involved with the investigation, said the drug could fetch anywhere from $2,000 per pound to $4,000 per pound locally.
That means the four seized parcels carry a street value of $92,000 to $184,000.
Marijuana farmed in Mexico sells for about half the price of high-grade marijuana from the so-called “grass triangle” in California, Hodge said, where farmers can legally grow weed with higher levels of the psychoactive component, THC.
“It’s super-high-grade and drips with THC,” Hodge said.
Authorities declined to comment on these particular seizures by postal inspectors. Although each package included a return address, the origin of the marijuana remains unknown.
Investigators held all four packages last week in the U.S. Postal Inspection Service office in Columbia and filed for warrants with a judge there. Beth Drake, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to say whether investigators made any arrests in connection with the parcels, though court records reflect no such arrests.
The Post and Courier is not publishing exact sender or recipient addresses prior to charges being filed.
Letters and packages travel primarily through a maze of machines at U.S. Postal Service processing and distribution plants, where computers electronically decide their next destination. All the while, federal postal inspectors watch over those plants.
In the Charleston Processing and Distribution Plant on Cross County Road, for example, they observe behind two-sided mirrors from overhead catwalks.
Harry Spratlin, Columbia-based communications coordinator for the U.S. Postal Service, said criminals typically use Express or Priority mail to reduce the number of hands on their parcels. Each of the four recent seizures came through Express Mail.
“We rely on the public, on local authorities and on our clerks to alert the Postal Inspection Service when a problem is seen,” Spratlin said.
One of the four packages, addressed to an apartment in Ladson, weighed 3 pounds, 6 ounces. The postal inspector wrote in court filings that the recipient does not live at the listed address and that the return address, a business called SWC Tile in Santa Rosa, Calif., does not exist.
The signature on the package, according to the postal inspector, was unreadable.
The postal inspector brought in an investigator with the Lexington County Narcotics Enforcement team and his drug-detecting dog, Ben. Placed in a room with six other packages, Ben responded only to the parcel in question, court records state.
A magistrate judge granted a warrant, and the inspector discovered a vacuum-sealed package of “a green leafy substance.”
The same investigator stopped another package bound for a West Ashley apartment from someone named “T.R.” in Reno, Nev. No one by those initials lives at the return address, the inspector wrote in court filings, and the recipient’s name does not match the address.
Ben again inspected the package and alerted to the suspicious parcel. This time, the inspector intercepted 20 pounds, 7 ounces of a “green leafy substance” packaged in sealed bundles, court records show. Shipping alone cost $118.
The inspector called Reno a “source city” for drugs. Another investigator, who stopped two more shipments, labeled Texas a “source state.”
Her first case, a 13-pound parcel bound for St. George, came from McAllen, according to court records. The second, an 8-pound parcel bound for St. George, came from Mission, court filings state. In each case, Ben took interest in the parcels in question.
After obtaining warrants, the inspector later found vacuum-sealed bags of suspected marijuana in the packages.