Disrupt, dismantle and destroy.
It may sound like a military, special unit slogan, but it’s also what Timothy Shea says is the guiding principle of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA for short.
Raised in Fall River, Mass., Shea, who last May was appointed Acting Administrator of the federal crime-fighting agency, says it’s his mission to take down drug gangs that peddle narcotics.
“Violent crime is fueled in part by drug trafficking (and) the violence is something we can’t forget about,” he said.
Shea, 60, sat for an interview in the DEA’s New Bedford regional office on Pleasant Street.
He said that earlier in the day, after extending an invitation to local police departments, he held an in-person meeting with police chiefs from Fall River, Fairhaven, New Bedford and Attleboro, to discuss the issue of drug trafficking in the state’s southeastern region.
Shea says it’s no secret that the bulk of hard drugs that makes its way to Fall River, New Bedford and the Cape emanate from Providence.
He said the local highway system affords people working for drug gangs and traffickers an easy means of delivery.
In addition to the human toll on people using and becoming addicted to narcotics, Shea noted that the illegal drug trade ultimately impedes economic development in U.S. cities and towns.
“It’s disheartening,” he said.
Shea said he’ll soon announce the formation of a district DEA office that will focus exclusively on drug trafficking extending from Providence to Cape Cod.
He said the office initially will be located in Providence.
Traffickers in the boroughs of New York City, Shea said, typically send their illegal wares to New England via Interstate 95.
But he said smugglers in Mexico continue to call the shots when it comes to the supply line into the United States.
“You have some Dominican gangs, but ultimately it’s Mexico that controls it,” he said.
Shea said the coronavirus pandemic has created a unique situation at the border, which extends from Texas to California.
Just over a week ago the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement that it was once again extending measures first implemented in late March — with the cooperation of the governments of Mexico and Canada — to limit all non-essential travel across the borders.
The latest extension lasts until Sept. 21.
The Homeland Security statement also notes that U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as part of the agreement, has since March 23 suspended the practice of “detaining illegal immigrants in our (U.S.) holding facilities.”
They instead are being sent back to their country of origin, according to the press release.
Shea says limiting cross-border travel to control the spread of the pandemic has created a unique dynamic — wherein Mexican cartels have stockpiled drugs on one side of the border, while traffickers on the U.S. side are “awash with money” waiting for travel restrictions to be eased.
“We’re expecting a flood of drugs into the U.S.,” he said, once the restrictions are lifted.
Shea, however, said that DEA agents, with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, in the interim have “seized tens of millions of dollars on the U.S. side” from traffickers.
Mexican drug cartels have long been known for exporting heroin and cocaine.
But Shea said he’s particularly concerned about the growing influx of illegally produced fentanyl and methamphetamine being manufactured in Mexican cartel drug labs.
He identified the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel, also known as CJNG, as the two major players in the Mexican drug trade.
The CJNG in recent years has gained international attention after police say it engaged in hanging headless corpses from highway bridges as a warning to other Mexican drug gangs.
It also has taken credit for murdering a judge and his wife and attempting to assassinate the police chief of Mexico City.
Shea was named Acting Administrator of the DEA by U.S. Attorney William Barr on behalf of President Donald Trump.
He previously worked as a senior counselor to Barr and also as interim United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. He at one time also worked as a corporate lawyer for two Boston law firms.
Barr and Shea first met in 1991 when Shea was associate deputy attorney for Barr in the administration of George H.W. Bush.
Shea said he’s well aware of arrests made during the past couple of years of members belonging to the New Bedford chapter of the Latin Kings street gang, some of whom were hit with federal, felony charges.
He said the DEA along with state and local police continue to monitor the situation, and are keeping an eye on other gangs that have been trying to establish a foothold in the Whaling City.
Shea said that although most news stories in recent years about the notoriously violent and often sadistic MS-13 gang have focused on brutal homicides on Long Island and in other states such as Virginia, the DEA is tracking the gang’s activities throughout the country.
“They’re here,” he said, referring to New England, where MS-13 members in East Boston and Chelsea have in recent years been arrested and indicted.
U.S. Attorney Barr in July announced the indictment of eight MS-13 members in connection to the murder of six people on Long Island as part of the stated policy of President Trump, who in 2017 directed the Department of Justice “to go to war against MS-13.”
MS-13 members have been known for using machetes and bats to commit murders. Victims have often included teenagers, some of them pregnant girls.
Shea said the pandemic slowed the progress of Operation Relentless Pursuit, an initiative that was launched in 2019 to combat violent crime in seven American cities.
But on July 8 a new initiative called Operation LeGend was launched targeting violent crime in Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Memphis, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City.
It was named in memory of 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro of Kansas City, who died after being shot while asleep in his bed.
The new acting administrator said he’s been visiting various DEA offices around the country: “It’s good for me to get out and see how the troops are doing,” he said.
Shea grew up in the Highlands section of Fall River and still makes visits to a sibling and other relatives living in the area.
He graduated from Bishop Connolly High School, attended Boston College and earned a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
Shea comes from a long line of Fall River firefighters dating back to a great grandfather and his late father Louis, who became the department’s chief.
He said he also has a brother who is now a district fire chief, a cousin who is a fire department private and a nephew in Fall River who is attending the police training academy.
“I come from a long history of first responders. As a lawyer I guess I’m the black sheep of the family,” he joked.
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