Buying drugs to catch dealers in Ottawa County
Just after dark, an undoubtedly nervous man sits in a parking lot at a local business, waiting.
A few minutes later, a car pulls up next to his and parks. The man and woman inside hop out, and a woman pulls a tiny bag of heroin from her pants and hands it to the man.
“I had to put it in my underwear,” she explains.
She likely concealed the drugs there because if police had stopped the car on the way back from Toledo — where she bought the heroin with money the man had given her a couple hours earlier — it would be difficult for officers to find if they searched her.
The three chat for a few minutes, and the woman offers to bring him more drugs — provided he has the money — in the next week or so.
Both cars then drive away, while passersby are oblivious to what just happened. What the pair in the car didn’t know is their buyer is a confidential informant for the Ottawa County Drug Task Force, and the sale they made likely will lead to felony drug charges in the next few months.
Task force agents watched the entire incident from nearby locations, and one recorded the exchange thanks to a transmitter the informant wore. Afterward, they met the informant at an out-of-the-way location, took the heroin and reviewed what happened.
Agent Carl Rider describes the exchange as a pretty typical controlled buy for the task force.
Agents hope to set up a few more buys with these dealers before taking the case to a grand jury. Given the recorded evidence, grand juries usually indict the dealers on felony charges for each buy.
Then, the prosecutor’s office works out a plea deal with the dealers. For example, a defendant charged with three drug felonies might end up pleading to one.
“Ninety-five percent of the people plead out by doing the cases the way we do them,” Rider said. “The CIs (informants) don’t want to testify. We try to protect their identity the best we can.”
Ultimately the deal benefits everyone, he said. The prosecutor gets a conviction, and a defendant — who would have a difficult time getting a jury to believe he or she is innocent when the drug deals are recorded — gets a less severe punishment.
Initially, the informant tried to set up a buy with a different dealer, but that fell through. After he planned the heroin buy with the pair, it appeared that exchange might not work out either.
Nonetheless, the agents and informant met as planned just in case the dealer was ready to sell.
“This is the hurry up and wait game,” Agent Joel Barton said.
But that’s normal in this line of work. Informants tell the task force who sells drugs, and the informants try to set up buys.
Fortunately, the informant received a message from the pair saying they were ready to get him some heroin. Agents fitted him with a transmitter, tested the recording system and wrote down the serial numbers of the money they planned to give the CI for the buy — which helps them track the cash later.
They followed the informant to a gas station, where they watched and listened as the informant gave the pair the money. Then the pair headed to Toledo to get the drugs.
“You’d be amazed how many dope deals happen at gas stations,” Barton said. “Unless you know what’s going on, or you’ve seen multiple dope deals happen, you wouldn’t know.”
Heroin usually comes from Toledo — although agents do sometimes see it from Fremont and Sandusky — and they have to have “front money” to give the dealer first.
With marijuana, the dealer usually already has the product and can just exchange it with the informant for cash. But with heroin — which the task force notes is on the rise — dealers tend to use some of the heroin they sell to support their own habit, Barton said.
In this buy, the informant was supposed to get 1 gram, but actually received about 0.6 grams — enough to support a hard-core addict for two days, Barton said. Agents suspect one or both of the dealers skimmed some of it, which is common practice.
“If they had it here, they’d be using up all their product,” Barton said.