By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
The federal court system is taking the increase in heroin trafficking in Kentucky seriously by stepping up prosecution and demanding lengthy sentences for dealers, a local prosecutor told Madison Countians last week.
U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey spoke to several hundred people at the “Heroin in the Headlines” conference, which was sponsored by the Madison County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.
“It is a real threat to the community,” Harvey said. “... it is growing worse by the day.”
U.S. District Court for Kentucky’s eastern district covers 67 counties, Harvey said. Federal courts generally focus on prosecuting high-level drug dealers who lead trafficking networks.
In 2012, 501 criminal cases were resolved in the state’s Eastern District, and about half of those were drug-related cases, Harvey said. Four percent were related to heroin trafficking.
This year, he estimates about 15 to 20 percent of drug cases handled in his district will be heroin-related.
The drug used to come into the state primarily through Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, but now Detroit and Atlanta operations are supplying Kentucky heroin addicts, Harvey said. They often use “mules,” or people paid to smuggle the drug into the state via Greyhound bus routes.
However, many of these traffickers are finding the area so lucrative they are having lower-level dealers move to Kentucky to peddle the drug.
“We’re finding more and more they’re setting up franchises here,” Harvey said, adding these dealers will often rent or buy homes in Kentucky cities.
Harvey said since March, his office began an initiative to crack down on heroin trafficking.
“We have better tools to work with in the federal system,” Harvey said, citing several differences between state and federal laws pertaining to drug trafficking.
The federal court system does not have parole, and convicted heroin dealers are receiving average prison sentences of five and a half years.
Since the initiative began, the Eastern District of Kentucky has been involved with the prosecution of 93 defendants accused of heroin trafficking. Of those, 26 have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced, 22 have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing, and 29 are awaiting trial, Harvey said.
Also, a federal law allows for the special prosecution of a heroin trafficker who sells the drug to a person who dies as a result of an overdose. The maximum sentence on such a conviction is 20 years.
“I have zero sympathy for drug traffickers who are simply in it for the greed,” Harvey said.
He said that many of the high-level dealers are not heroin users themselves.
“Those people are preying on human misery with no thought to the consequences,” Harvey said.
A threat to Harvey’s efforts to combat heroin trafficking is the federal sequestration budget cuts. These cuts, which are required to reduce growth in federal spending, will leave his office with a 25 percent prosecutor vacancy rate by the end of the year, Harvey said.
“Many of these efforts I’ve discussed here will simply go away,” Harvey said.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6694.