Meth Arrests Growing in NYC

Special state prosecutor picks up pace of enforcement among gay men

In an indication of law enforcement’s growing attention to crystal meth, the state’s Office of Special Narcotics has seen an increase in the number of meth cases it is prosecuting going from three last year to eight so far in 2004.

“Law enforcement is crashing the party that has gone on virtually unnoticed by them for years,” said Dan Carlson who, along with Bruce Kellerhouse, has produced a series of town meetings on gay men, HIV and drugs. “There are now potentially life-changing legal consequences to openly expressing a desire to use crystal meth.”

The Office of Special Narcotics, which prosecutes felony drug cases throughout New York City, had two meth cases in 2002 and two in 2001, Magda Gandasegui, spokesperson for the agency, said earlier this year. She declined to comment on the increase.

At a February 19 press conference, David N. Kelley, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said federal law enforcement made 11 meth arrests in 2002, but “in the last six months alone we have made… 30 arrests involving over 25 pounds of the drug with a street value in excess of over $2.5 million dollars.”

It is unclear if the police department’s Narcotics Division is pursuing meth cases, but Thomas Verni, the department’s liaison to the queer community, attended a July 13 town meeting, one of four organized by Carlson and Kellerhouse, and invited audience members to contact him by phone or e-mail to report any meth dealers. Verni said the information would be passed on to the Narcotics Division. The police department press office declined a request for an interview with division leaders.

Those agencies that are pursuing meth cases are getting smarter about crystal in the gay community. Some of the recent arrests were for sales on Manhunt.net, a web site that gay men use to meet men for sex.

It does not appear that law enforcement officials are joining Manhunt and setting up buys with meth dealers. Instead, men who have been arrested have arranged the online deals in exchange for leniency and police then bust the dealers.

There is no suggestion that the web site owners are involved in or even know about the meth sales. Calls to Manhunt were not returned.

Isabelle A. Kirshner, an attorney at the law firm Claman and Rosenberg, is defending three men—one in federal court—whose arrests have a Manhunt connection.

“All of them met the person who caused their arrest through Manhunt,” Kirshner said. “I had never heard of Manhunt until a few weeks ago.”

The total number of meth cases handled by federal and local law enforcement agencies continues to be relatively small, compared to those for other drugs, but Kirshner said police are mentioning Manhunt more.

“The DEA is extremely familiar with Manhunt,” she said.

The DEA would not discuss Manhunt.

“I’m not going to comment specifically on a particular web site,” said Liz Jordan, a DEA spokesperson. “The Internet has become the street corner for many drug users and traffickers. I can say that the DEA is committed to identifying and preventing any illegal drug distribution on the Internet.”

Kirshner noted that these gay men, once they are arrested, readily give up their dealers to police. In other cases, some gay men continue to sell to guys who have been arrested.

“I don’t know if it’s the drug that skews their judgment or if they are monstrously naive,” Kirshner said. “They just suspend all judgment and continue to have contact with people they know have been arrested.”

Many community activists have been concerned about meth arrests and prosecutions fearing that users, and not major dealers, will be busted.

“Crystal meth happens to be the one drug where users inevitably become dealers,” Kirshner said. “Virtually all of those who are getting arrested are users as well.”

In their press statement, Carlson and Kellerhouse said that the state and federal agencies appear to be “more aggressively pursuing small-time dealers rather than strictly focusing on the big guys.”

While they hope users would get drug treatment instead of prison time, they also said that anyone who uses crystal needs to know that the consequences can be more than physical harm or addiction.

“The community needs to launch some sort of awareness effort to alert gay men that law enforcement is very much engaged in how crystal users procure the drug as well as to inform gay men of what to do if arrested and what the real-life outcomes might be for buying and selling crystal,” they said, in their written statement. “Ultimately, we need to continue to raise awareness about the dangers of crystal use and persuade gay men to stay away from it.”

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