HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Federal authorities said they arrested 36 members of a drug trafficking ring in North Alabama last week in a joint operation with multiple federal agencies and local law enforcement. The arrests were the result of a months-long investigation. During that time, law enforcement officials said they learned quite a bit about how these drug dealers were able to bring meth into North Alabama.
Over the course of the investigation, officials say approximately 200 pounds of meth were shipped through the mail. The mail, something as mundane as a package, turned illicit in this case.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first time drugs have been shipped through the US Postal Service. This is something the US Postal Inspection Service has been working to stop for years.
74 pounds of meth and a 1 kilo of cocaine were seized as a part of a multi-agency investigation into a drug ring supplying meth to almost a third of the state. Law enforcement officials say they were being supplied drugs from CJNG, a Mexican cartel that is an offshoot of the Sinaloa cartel. Officials say the drugs were being sent from the San Bernardino area of California -- a portion of them shipped through the US Postal Service.
Unfortunately, that 200 pounds make up only a small portion of drugs being shipped in the mail. Last year, the US Postal Inspection Service, a federal law enforcement agency tasked with keeping mail safe, seized over 96,000 pounds of mailed narcotics.
"In 2018 when it came to narcotics investigations they had over 2,233 cases were initiated," said US Postal Inspector Tony Robinson.
USPS is a little different than shipping companies like FedEx or UPS, since it's a federal agency -- not a private company.
"The first-class mail statutes, those are federal laws that basically protect your first-class mail as it goes through the postal service. When you send a first-class mailpiece, it is as safe as far as privacy goes as it would be if it was sitting inside your house," Robinson said.
USPS cannot open packages without a search warrant.
In an internal audit from last year, of 104 drug websites on the dark web that list a shipper, the majority say they use USPS.
"You will always have someone who wants to take advantage," Robinson said.
That's why the postal inspection service remains vigilant.
Robinson stressed the importance of people coming forward with tips. In fact, USPS offers up to $50,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of people who mails prohibited items.