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U.S. mail system a “safe” way to ship marijuana?

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A lot of crazy things have happened under the "Golden Arches" recently.

In April, a topless mom trashed a McDonald's in Florida, even pausing her rampage to guzzle some soft serve out of the ice cream machine.

In Norway one man wgolden arches 2as 'lovin' it' so much he branded himself with a McDonald's receipt.

Back in Milwaukee, a man from Whitefish Bay named Ed Patterson said he just wanted to follow in his family's footsteps. So, early last year, he bought his neighborhood McDonald's -- the same store his father had owned when he was just a boy.

In 2012 the Drug Enforcement Administration started investigating what they would later call the Patterson Drug Trafficking Organization.

Patterson operated three McDonald's restaurants in Fox Point, Mequon, and Glendale. Federal authorities say he used his fast food empire to launder drug money and conceal his most lucrative business: marijuana.

Patterson and his buddies were arrested last fall, and the criminal complaint that followed shows how he was able to use the United States Postal Service to ship hundreds of thousand of dollars of pot from Mendocino County, California to Wisconsin.

"The price usually doubles or triples once it goes from there to here to Wisconsin," says Jeffrey Zientek, a canine handler for the West Allis Police Department.

An informant told police Patterson had decided to start what he called the "mail thing" after some of his crew had been pulled over with weed in their cars on their way back from California.drugs 1

"People are now more afraid to transport it by ground," Zientek says.

So Patterson started mailing the pot home for about $10 a pound. Because the parcels couldn't be too heavy, he'd only put a few pounds of pot in each package. During the Fall of 2012, he was allegedly shipping nearly 60 pounds a month, or roughly $250,000 worth of weed -- for the cost of postage.

"You are playing the odds. Yes, you might get away with it one or two times, but you will eventually get caught," Zientek says.

Zientek and his dog, Sonny, help law enforcement agencies all over Southeast Wisconsin try to weed out packages full of, well, weed.

'The wackiest is somebody taking duct tape, silver duct tape, and taping their box together from California or something," he says.

"And the box literally without even going near it with a canine you can smell the narcotic seeping through the box itself."

He says shipping drugs through the mail is probably safer than it should be. For one, law enforcement doesn't have the resources to try to figure out where the drugs came from and who's expecting them.drugs in mail

"It takes a lot of man hours to figure something like that out," he explains.

So if it's not an easy case to crack, he says, local law enforcement agencies just seize the package and move on. Nobody gets arrested and nobody gets the drugs.

In April, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska called Attorney General Eric Holder to task on the issue during budget meetings.

"We are being beat on these issues and the impact to our communities again, utilizing legal processes to get these drugs in that are in many cases wiping out families. We need some assistance here," she said.

"The drugs are coming into the community through the mails."

The Attorney General agreed, but didn't offer a solution.

"It is shocking to see the amount of drugs that get pumped into communities all around this country through our mail system," Holder said.

"We have to deal with that. It's a major problem that we have to deal with."

drugs 2But it's unclear how it's currently being dealt with. For example, the FOX6 investigators have collected dozens of search warrants. In all of the cases, it was found, police officers got permission to search suspicious packages and drugs were in fact found inside.

But a search of state and federal records shows no arrests were made in connection with the packages. The boxes were opened, and the drugs were found, but it seems nobody got in trouble. If drugs are shipped through the U.S. mail, as opposed to a private courier, a federal search warrant is required before a package can be opened.

"We are doing all we can to make sure the mail is safe," says U.S. Postal Inspector Brian Haraway.

He says the Postal Service knows the mail is  being used to transport all kinds of drugs, but they don't know how often people are being caught.

In 2013 U.S. Postal Inspectors seized about 9,000 packages of marijuana that had been sent in the mail. That's 20 % more than the year before.

But Haraway says there's no way of telling how much pot actually made it through safely.

Patterson and his crew were never caught on video at any mail facilities, but investigators say records show that between April 2012 and September 2013, at least 35 packages of marijuana were shipped from California to Milwaukee by U.S. Express Mail. The return addresses were imaginary.

According to the criminal complaint, Postal InspectorPatterson said he wanted to make a $2 million profit before marijuana becomes legalized nationally.

And with the help of the United States Postal System, federal investigators say he was able to successfully ship somewhere between 200 and 800 pounds of marijuana before getting caught --- easily a $1 million dollar business.

"Eventually you will get caught. If you send once or twice and get lucky, but the famous saying is 'they have to get lucky all the time and law enforcement only has to get lucky once,'" Zientek says.

Patterson's trial was supposed to start May 5, but it's postponed so the parties can reach a plea deal.

The U.S. Postal Service offers a $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of people trying to mail marijuana via the U.S. mail system.

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11 comments

  • Joe Thomas

    Somewhere in the neighborhood of $73 million is spent annually in Wisconsin alone on marijuana prohibition.

    Colorado is expecting higher than expected tax revenues from marijuana sales.

    Marijuana continues to prove to be a viable source of medicines.

    It’s prohibition was a farce and is more harmful than the drug itself.

  • electropig

    Sure is a good thing we keep pouring BILLIONS into cannabis prohibition every year, all over the planet. We all know that we aren’t smart enough to make our own decisions, and we need “big brother to decide EVERYTHING for us.

    What we can eat? Well…we stupidly think that we want “safe, natural, non-toxic food”…but OUR EMPLOYEES? Well…they’re smarter than we are…and they know that we need all of those toxic chemicals and GMOs “to keep us healthy.”

    At this point, anyone with one of these here newfangled ‘lectronical porn-surfin’ boxes can simply go go google and type the words “cannabis cures cancer” and find out one of the REAL reasons cannabis was “made illegal on paper” by giving it a “new statutory name” and playing off of the ignorance of people…or by outright lying to them in the first place.

    It’s time to REPEAL CANNABIS PROHIBITION and put an end to all of this idiocy once and for all.

    It’s the ONLY way to end it. If we haven’t figured that out over the last century…we probably never will.

  • preferredduck

    Can’t we just make it legal already. It helps more and is less harmful than most prescription meds docs give out daily. It also seems research shows it attacks cancer cells and helps with many illnesses that can’t be fixed and only managed by certain meds. People shoukd really look at all the success stories from it out thwre. I knkw I’m one of them because if not for pot opiates would have got me at some point for pain management.

  • whatever guy

    “utilizing legal processes to get these drugs in that are in many cases wiping out families. We need some assistance here,” she said.” How’s some weed going to “wipe out families”…. a little too dramatic I think… unless it’s some really killer stuff… get it?………..

  • jeff snyder

    “We are being beat on these issues and the impact to our communities again, utilizing legal processes to get these drugs in that are in many cases wiping out families….the only thing wiping out families are stupid cops following stupid laws

  • Rachael Bryant

    The West Allis Police Department should find a new canine handler who understands drug classifications unlike Jeffrey Zientek who referred to marijuanna as a narcotic in this article.

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