U.S. Attorney Vows to Hammer Drug Trade
By Laurel J. Sweet
BOSTON -- U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, emboldened by the hiring of 21 new prosecutors, is pledging to wield immigration enforcement laws to keep “hammering away” at the city of Lawrence -- what he called ground zero of the region’s deadly opioid epidemic.
“Lawrence is one of the top priorities in this office for drug enforcement. You will see enforcement action after enforcement action in the Lawrence area designed to make that city a very uncomfortable place for people who sell drugs there,” Lelling said during a 50-minute, no-holds-barred roundtable Wednesday. “Lawrence is a source city for fentanyl and heroin pouring into New Hampshire and Maine.
“In October, we arrested about 50 people, combining criminal charges and administrative immigration charges in Lawrence,” he said. “There’s recently been additional immigration-related operations against gang members and people with gun and drug charges in Lawrence. And you will see upcoming operations in Lawrence. We will keep hammering away at that city until it stops being a source city.”
Lelling, a law-and-order hardliner nominated by President Trump, said, “If I am targeting drug traffickers in Lawrence, one of the tools I will use is the immigration laws to isolate gang members, drug dealers, gun traffickers, that kind of thing.”
Law enforcement officials in Lowell have consistently grumbled, albeit privately, about drugs flowing into Lawrence and through Methuen, Dracut and eventually Lowell along Route 110. One former Lowell police superintendent dubbed the 10-mile stretch of state highway the “drug corridor.”
Lawrence’s mayor Dan Rivera, meanwhile, said he’s fighting “a two-front war” with arrests and treatment.
“I understand that the U.S. Attorney is doing his job in law enforcement,” Rivera said, “but I would encourage him to give us the statistics of how many new treatment beds he and the administration have opened up at the same time as they are giving you the number of arrests they’ve made on the supply side.
“This is a two-front war,” the mayor said, “and if he thinks that only hammering a city on the supply side is going to do the job, he’s sadly mistaken.”
Lelling also noted his office’s stunning takedown of violent MS-13 gang members.
“MS-13 is probably one of the biggest success stories of the last year. MS-13 has all but been eradicated in the Greater Boston area. We’re running out of MS-13 targets,” he said.
On legal weed in Massachusetts, Lelling said he won’t look the other way.
“The severity of the opioid epidemic makes this issue much easier for me. Marijuana simply is not a priority. There are certain circumstances where I think we would look at marijuana cases. When you have a lot of money sloshing around, is there money laundering going on? And where is the money going?” he said.
“In my time as a line prosecutor, I’ve had cases where drug proceeds appeared to be going overseas to terrorist organizations,” Lelling said. “I’m not saying that’s going to happen here, but because drug dealing has a way of generating large amounts of untraceable cash quickly, sometimes that money is diverted to other illegal uses. We’re very sensitive to that. We’re very good at tracking that.”