Cocaine Makes A Town Safer


The small Michigan village of Hamburg Township owes New York City drug dealers a thank-you note.

A few weeks back, John Gilbride, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s New York office, announced how the $18.6 million in cash they seized from New York City drug dealers last year would be divvied up among the police agencies that helped the agency make the cases.

The NYPD, unsurprisingly, got the biggest slice, nearly $5.1 million, as part of the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, which is designed to promote cooperation among federal, state, and local police departments.

But more than $3.5 million of the forfeited money went to some 24 out-of-town agencies—including $6,692.96 sent to Hamburg Township, which lies an hour west of Detroit. With 15 full-time officers, its police department was the smallest of the law enforcement agencies that received cash from the New York DEA this year.

With a flag declaring it “A Great Place to Grow Up,” Hamburg Township is a 23,500-person community that recently suffered its first murder in five years—a
husband killed his wife. It averages only about a dozen violent crimes annually. A
“quiet, low-crime community,” is how its police chief, Steve Luciano, puts it.

So how did this lake village become enmeshed in New York’s war on drugs, some 625 miles away?

Turns out Hamburg Township police passed along a tip about drug dealers to the Detroit DEA, who then passed it on to their colleagues in New York. Based on that information, agents arrested Juan Panigua, a/k/a Elvin Perez, now 57, and Bolivar Genao, now 52, inside a Brooklyn apartment on March 16, 2005. Seized in the raid were a Bryco .380 semi-automatic pistol, five kilos of cocaine, 220 grams of heroin, and approximately $33,000 in cash.

Hamburg’s $6,692.96 cut of that money may seem a pittance, but unlike New York City—now flush with a roughly $3 billion budget surplus—things aren’t so rosy in Michigan.

“The Michigan economy is under tremendous pressure with the decline in the auto industry,” Luciano notes. “And that certainly works its way down to law enforcement money.”

Luciano says Hamburg has had some of its own problems with drugs, mainly heroin and methamphetamine, including three overdose deaths at the end of last year. He doesn’t know what the cash from the Brooklyn drug dealers will be used for. Last year, the small department spent nearly $15,000 in forfeiture funds to purchase a radar speed traffic trailer. Overall, almost $274 million was distributed to police agencies through the Equitable Sharing Program for cases closed out in 2006. New York’s DEA ranked fifth behind Atlanta ($40 million), Los Angeles ($36 million), Detroit ($23 million), and St. Louis ($22 million).

New York’s Gilbride explains that the program provides smaller police departments the incentive to help out on cases they might otherwise avoid. “Say it’s out of their jurisdiction, out of their backyard,” Gilbride says. “In the past, they might have been less likely to want to reach out. Now there’s something in it for them.”

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