[image-1]Spread out across a table in the Charleston Police Station was what Police Chief Greg Mullen referred to as a “cafeteria of drugs.” The result of a six-month investigation into a local narcotics ring, the department seized 734 grams of cocaine, almost 2,500 grams of marijuana, more than 43,000 pills, along with hash, molly, cash, and semiautomatic weapons. Although Mullen would not get into specifics, he did say the case shares a connection with the March 4 killing of Patrick Moffly during an alleged drug deal. Nine were arrested as a result of the bust, all under the age of 27. The investigation is ongoing.

“The No. 1 job of our city government is public safety. And I think you can sense, just seeing what’s on the table here today, that there’s this incredible connection, an intertwining of the threat to public safety of drug use and the trade and the violence that follows it, that accompanies it,” said Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg during a Wednesday press conference. “The majority of recent deaths and murders that you’ve seen in our community — not just in the city of Charleston and this county, but around the country — can often be traced to disputes over drugs, to individuals who are making theft or murder over obtaining money to obtain drugs. So the interconnection is so real.”

Mullen said police have seen a lot of the city’s drug activity centralized downtown, in and around the clubs and bars that make up Charleston’s thriving nightlife. It’s here among the local twentysomethings that prescription drug abuse and the use of synthetic drugs appear to be most prevalent.

“One of the things that’s most interesting about this case is the fact that it includes such a large variety of drugs,” said Mullen. “Normally, you’re dealing with either cocaine or marijuana or heroin. This particular case, you had all types of drugs. It goes from the Xanax, which seems to be a drug of choice right now, to LSD and hashish and synthetics, that is starting to become very popular as well.”

The Investigation

The series of surveillance operations, undercover buys, and search warrants carried out across the county began with a single arrest. The apprehension of this one individual started the ball rolling on an investigation that reached outside of South Carolina to Oregon, Georgia, and California, and would uncover an organized network of distributors already operating in Charleston. Through a cooperative effort involving the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, SLED, the DEA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Inspector’s Division of the U.S. Postal Service, city police were able to seize $150,000 worth of pills and more than $214,000 in cash from homes and storage units in the area.
[image-2]In addition to Michael Schmidt, 21, of Atlanta; and Jonathan Reams, 19, of Easley; locals arrested in the bust include Robert Liljeberg, 22, Zackery Kligman, 24, Benjamin Nauss, 23, Daniel Katko, 25, Christopher Sliker, 22, Samantha Hincks, 26, and Jake Poeschek, 21. The manufacturing of THC and possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute within close proximity to a park or playground are included in the 29 charges leveled against the members of the group.

Once the cases are concluded, the drugs will be destroyed, and the money will go though a seizure process that if successful would return a portion of it to the Charleston Police Department. Mullen said these proceeds will go to fund the department’s continuing efforts to investigate the sale and purchase of illegal narcotics in the city.

The Numbers

According to statistics compiled by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety and SLED, there were more than 33,400 arrests for drug charges in 2012. This equals out to almost 71 arrests per 10,000 South Carolina residents. Charleston County led the state that year, with 4,777 total arrests related to drugs and drug equipment.

“People have been trying to clean it up for many, many years. We’re just trying to do the best we can to minimize the damage that it’s causing here. One of the things we continually want to do is make sure that we are as active and pro-active as possible to address situations,” said Chief Mullen. “We know this is not going to stop drug use in Charleston. What we do want to make sure that people understand though is that we are going to be very aggressive in terms of trying to do the best we can to uncover this wherever it’s at, whatever type of drug it is. We want to put you in jail if you’re dealing drugs in Charleston. And 43,000 of these pills has the potential to impact multiple lives and create all kinds of havoc.”

[embed-1] As for the increased illegal use of prescription drugs that Mullen pointed out, this seems to be part of a growing national trend. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found a 450 percent increase in the proportion of college students abusing prescription tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium from 1993-2005. For comparison, the number of daily marijuana users doubled, and the proportion using other illicit drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy, rose by 52 percent. In that same study, 15 percent of college administrators named tranquilizer abuse as a problem on their campus. The College of Charleston offers confidential counseling and drug abuse services to students.

“I know that many members in our community have looked over time at some drug use as being recreational. It’s not,” said Mayor Tecklenburg. “It’s a real scourge to our community, and it’s a real threat to public safety, not just in what it can do to an individual, but the ensuing violence and real impact on the community at large.”

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