Metro VNI Section
The Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division, or "Metro VNI" for short, is a multi-agency, co-located drug task force divided into multiple units, responsible for specific enforcement responsibilities. Detectives assigned to the Narcotics Street Teams investigate, control, and prevent the illegal distribution, possession, and/or manufacturing of illegal narcotics and/or controlled substances. Their primary focus is on individuals, businesses and groups of individuals involved in street level and mid-level distribution of narcotics throughout El Paso and Teller Counties.
Detectives assigned to the Marijuana Regulatory Team are responsible for conducting marijuana regulatory investigations within the Fourth Judicial District. This includes inspections and audits of both commercial and recreational marijuana businesses.
The Division also employs detectives whose sole responsibility is to investigate prescription fraud, and provide alcohol and tobacco enforcement / auditing within El Paso County, CO.
The Intelligence Unit is committed to developing, analyzing, enhancing and disseminating criminal intelligence to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies with emphasis given to Homeland Security crimes. The division routinely shares criminal intelligence information with all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
The Human Trafficking Unit conducts in-depth, quality investigations for the prosecution of individuals, involved in human trafficking related crimes and activities, be it for commercial sexual exploitation or labor. Detectives may at times conduct undercover investigations of social media sites used to facilitate human trafficking, massage parlors, escort services and other avenues utilized by those engaged in human trafficking, which affect the quality of life in our community.
In addition, MVNI has law enforcement personnel assigned as “task force officers” to federal agencies such as:
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
DEA’s mission is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminal and civil justice system of the United States, or any other competent jurisdiction, those organizations and principal members of organizations involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the United States; and to recommend and support non-enforcement programs aimed at reducing the availability of illicit controlled substances on the domestic and international markets.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
ATF works, directly and through partnerships, to investigate and reduce violent crime involving firearms and explosives, acts of arson, and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products.
Federal Bureau of Investigations Safe Streets Task Force (FBI SSTF)
SSTFs focus primarily upon street gang and drug-related violence, address specific violent crime problems through the teaming of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors to conduct long-term, proactive investigations. In addition, the SSTF addresses the most significant violent fugitive investigations.
Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)
The Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) investigates, detects, interdicts, prosecutes and removes terrorists and dismantles terrorist organizations.
Trends within El Paso County, Colorado
Colorado House Bill 19-1263
On March 1, 2020, a new law went into effect in Colorado making possession of 4 grams or less of most Schedule I and II drugs a misdemeanor offense rather than a felony. However, under the new law, possession of any amount of GHB and other “date rape” drugs will remain a level 4 drug felony. The goal of the law is to reduce incarceration for those caught with drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and dependency and have no accepted medical use even under medical supervision. Schedule I drugs include marijuana, psilocybin, heroin, LSD, peyote, methaqualone, and ecstasy. Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse, which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence, but these drugs are considered to have medical value. Schedule II drugs include methamphetamine, cocaine, oxycodone, opium, codeine, morphine, hydromorphone, methadone, Demerol, and fentanyl.
The new law also makes drug possession in Colorado of more than six (6) ounces of marijuana or more than three (3) ounces of marijuana concentrate a level 1 drug misdemeanor and possession of three (3) ounces or less of marijuana concentrate a level 2 drug misdemeanor.
Under this new law, if a person is in possession of less than two (2) ounces of marijuana, a person may not be arrested for the petty offense of possession at all.
Anyone convicted of a level 1 drug misdemeanor may face a sentence of up to 180 days in county jail or 2 years of probation, with up to 180 days in jail as a condition of probation or for a violation of probation. For a third or subsequent offense, a person may face up to 364 days in jail. Any person convicted may be subject to a monetary fine not to exceed $1,000, as well.
Anyone convicted of a level 2 drug misdemeanor may face up to 120 days in county jail or one-year probation, with up to 120 days in jail as a condition of probation or violation of probation. For a third or subsequent offense, a person may face up to 180 days in jail. Any person convicted may also be subject to a monetary fine not to exceed $500.
Part of the new bill includes a new grant program “to provide grants to counties that provide substance abuse or mental health treatment services to, facilitate diversion programs for, or develop other strategies to reduce jail and prison bed use by, persons who come into contact with the criminal justice system.” For the 2019-20 state fiscal year, $123,139 is appropriated to the judicial department.
Arrival of Fetanyl
Members of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division are alerting the public of a dangerous drug being distributed throughout El Paso County to include the Colorado Springs community. Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate painkiller, is being mixed with heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine to increase its potency, but dealers and buyers may not know exactly what they are selling or ingesting. The drug is produced clandestinely in Mexico, and comes directly from China. Many users under estimate the potency of fentanyl. It is 40 to 50 times stronger than street-level heroin. The dosage of fentanyl is a microgram, one millionth of a gram – similar to just a few grains of table salt. Fentanyl can be lethal and is deadly at very low doses. Fentanyl and its analogues come in several forms including, powder, blotter paper, patch, tablets, sprays, and liquid.
A lethal dose of fentanyl is estimated to be about two milligrams, but can vary based on an individual’s body size, tolerance, amount of previous usage and other factors.
Fentanyl is not only dangerous for the drug’s users, but for law enforcement, public health workers and first responders who could unknowingly be exposed to it in different forms. Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin or accidental inhalation of airborne powder. To address this new threat the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office issues Narcan or Naloxone to their personnel. (Narcan and Naloxone), are overdose-reversing drugs, which are an antidote for opiate overdose and may be administered intravenously, intramuscularly, or subcutaneously. Sometimes multiple doses are required to reverse the fentanyl overdose.
Fentanyl is also appearing in the form of counterfeit or look-a-like tablets sold as prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, Percocet, as well as the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
Recent seizure of tablets have occurred in our community, wherein the tablets actually contained fentanyl. These fentanyl tablets are marked to mimic the authentic narcotic prescription medication and have led to multiple overdoses and deaths.
In 2019, the Colorado Springs Police Department Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division seized approximately 35 grams of fentanyl in various forms. In addition, they seized 3,966 dosage units of fentanyl, most of which was in the form of counterfeit Percocet prescription tablets which were light blue or green in color and bore the M30 mark.
In 2017, El Paso County documented five (5) overdose deaths related directly to fentanyl. In 2018, that number rose to nine (9). In 2019, El Paso County documented twenty (20) overdose deaths related directly to fentanyl.
The Dark Web and Crytocurrency
The dark web refers to encrypted online content that is not indexed by conventional search engines. The dark web is a subset of the deep web that is intentionally hidden, requiring a specific browser to access. No one really knows the size of the dark web, but estimates put it at around 5% of the total internet. A 2019 study, which classified the contents of approximately 2,723 live dark web sites, found that 57% host illegal material. You can anonymously buy stolen credit card numbers, all manner of drugs, guns, counterfeit money, stolen subscription credentials, hacked Netflix accounts and software that helps you break into other people’s computers.
Nearly all dark web commerce sites conduct transactions in bitcoin or some variant, but that does not mean it is safe to do business there. The inherent anonymity of the site attracts scammers and thieves, but what do you expect when buying guns or drugs is your objective?
Dark web commerce sites have the same features as any e-retail operation, including ratings/reviews, shopping carts and forums, but there are important differences. One is quality control. When both buyers and sellers are anonymous, the credibility of any ratings system is dubious. Ratings are easily manipulated, and even sellers with long track records have been known to disappear with their customers’ crypto-coins, only to set up shop later under a different alias.
Most e-commerce providers offer some kind of escrow service that keeps customer funds on hold until the product has been delivered. However, in the event of a dispute do not expect service with a smile. It is pretty much up to the buyer and the seller to duke it out. Every communication is encrypted, so even the simplest transaction requires a PGP key.
Even completing a transaction is no guarantee that the goods will arrive. Many need to cross international borders, and customs officials are cracking down on suspicious packages. The dark web news site Deep.Dot.Web teems with stories of buyers who have been arrested or jailed for attempted purchases.
Law enforcement officials are becoming more educated and getting much better at finding and prosecuting owners of sites that sell illicit goods and services on the dark web. EPSO Detectives assigned to the Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division frequently monitor and use the dark web in their day –to-day operations. In 2019 and early 2020, information obtained from the dark web led to the arrest of narcotic distributors, human traffickers, and identity thieves trying to sell stolen personal identification.
Cryptocurrency is defined as a digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.
From speculation about its inherent value to theories about it being the payment method of choice for criminals, cryptocurrency is having a tough time keeping a clean name. One of the most common accusations is that cryptocurrencies perpetuate the sale of illicit drugs. The dark web has flourished thanks to bitcoin, the crypto-currency that enables two parties to conduct a trusted transaction without knowing each other’s identity. “Bitcoin has been a major factor in the growth of the dark web, and the dark web has been a big factor in the growth of bitcoin”.
The watershed moment for law enforcement taking decisive action against illicit drugs being purchased with cryptocurrency happened here in El Paso County in 2019, when DEA agents investigated and dismantled a major drug trafficking organization (DTO) that relied heavily on the digitalization of the international drug trade. The DTO dismantled by the DEA used the dark web, and Bitcoin (BTC) escrow to conceal purchaser and seller identities and their activity. At the conclusion of the investigation, DEA has seized in excess of $750,000 dollars in cryptocurrency from the organization.
There has been a significant increase in the distribution and abuse of heroin in the community. Highly addictive and dangerous, heroin use is also increasing among high school aged juveniles. Prescription drug abuse, especially among teenagers is usually the “gateway” to heroin abuse. The majority of medications obtained by teens are coming from their own homes. It is important for parents to keep track of all their medications and keep them secure.
To report an illegal marijuana grow or other suspected narcotics or vice related crimes or activities, please contact CRIMESTOPPERS at (719) 634-STOP