Special Reports

Murders, drugs often linked, say officials

Stan Moore says the mass murders Tuesday night in Pasco didn't surprise him.

The man who for 24 years prosecuted Franklin County's criminals said the drug trade in Pasco and Franklin County has changed from an "industry"' predominately involving blacks to an all-too-often predominately Hispanic group that even involves children

"That's what's happening today," be said. '"It's violent. It's scary, and it's real."

What was real in Pasco Tuesday was when five young Hispanic men were gunned down inside Medina's Auto Body Shop, 1101 East A St., by two Hispanic men. A sixth man was slightly wounded.

Police don't know if those deaths were linked to drugs or to an alleged drug money-laundering scheme that federal agents say they broke up with the arrest Tuesday of eight people, including four in Pasco.

But Moore said it's his hunch that "some way, when the loose ends are tied up, there's going to be a connection to drugs."

John Lamp, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington in Spokane, said Wednesday he "views Pasco as having a serious drug problem. But Pasco's problem is only part of a problem that extends an through the Yakima Valley."

Lamp said drug problems are pervasive throughout the Yakima Valley "and are more serious than anywhere else in this state."

He said federal drug task forces, headquartered in Yakima and Spokane, have been "working the Tri-Cities and up and down the Valley. This problem in your area is a major priority for us. We've put our resources into this. We have major investigations going on throughout that area."

Lamp said, "Yakima bas been known traditionally as the Northwest distribution center for black tar heroin. What we're seeing is that the drug is being brought into the area mostly by illegals."

He said lawmen must be more aggressive. "In the past, there were some law enforcement agencies with the mentality that they would only go after the big dealers and distributors. There is some truth to doing that, but the better judgment now is that they must be aggressive in the arrest and prosecution of street users. Otherwise there is no incentive for a person not to use. By and large that whole group of street users have been ignored by the criminal justice system."

Frank Wilson, and assistant U.S. attorney, met with Tri-City police chiefs and sheriffs Wednesday to discuss the massacre and other investigations.

Wilson said drug use and abuse is "touching more lives today than it did a few years back.

"It's infecting communities that were unaffected 10 years ago. We're seeing farmers getting involved, and to some degree we're seeing people looking the other way.

"There are a lot of people out there helping us,: Wilson said. "But I think the big difference in the drug trade today is that the good people have lost their outrage about what's happening."

Wilson agrees with his boss, Lamp, that the state has a "revolving door policy in its prisons," mandated in part by the Sentencing Reform Act, which they said isn't tough enough on drug dealers.

Lamp said the present sentencing guidelines offer only a "slap on the wrist" for first, second and even third time drug offenders, providing up to 90 days in jail.

"Drug dealers stand to make big bucks and know even if they are caught there's not much risk," he said.

Lamp said stiffer penalties won't help until new prisons are built. "Somebody has got to bite the bullet and spend the money and do it."

Pasco Police Detective Terry Trulson, in charge of the investigation of the auto body shop killings began as a rookie cop in Pasco 10 years ago. "I didn't know much about drugs then. I learned quickly."

Trulson said Pasco's drug problems are part of a widespread problem that will take "money and manpower" to stop.

"Pasco has a serious drug problem because right now Pasco has most of the Hispanic population, and before that Pasco had most of the black population."

Trulson agreed Hispanics "are controlling drugs today. 'I've been chief of detective since the summer of 1985 and there has been a steady increase in the number of Hispanic arrests. "

Moore told a story that he said exemplifies the changing drug trade.

An undercover officer had worked a drug case in Pasco for weeks, he said. It was all set. The officer was to make a "big" buy of black tar heroin at a store in east Pasco.

Moments after the undercover officer arrived, a long dark car pulled into a nearby alley and turned off its lights. The deal was coming down, said Moore.

Much to the agent's surprise, "Out popped a Hispanic 8-year-old girl and trotted over to the him," he said. "She gave him the heroin, he gave her the money and it was a done deal."

But it was more than another drug transaction. It's an example of how difficult it is to develop informants within the Hispanic community, where some of them involve their own children in drug dealing and where remaining silent is part of a cultural code, he said.

Moore, who retired last week, tells another "chilling" story. "There was a 12-year-old Hispanic boy from Pasco who negotiated drug deals for his Spanish-speaking parents and who flew with his mother to Los Angeles to deliver a pound of marijuana.

"When this all came down and the parents were arrested, they told officers that they were proud of their son's initiative. They said they had brought him up in their drug dealing business and that he was doing real well," he said.

Moore said heroin first showed in the Tri-Cities during the early 1970s when there was a riot in Volunteer Park across from the Franklin County courthouse.

"After the riot, there were various syringes and narcotics all over the park, and can you believe it we had officers who didn't even know what it was because we hadn't seen it."

That ended, he said, with the arrival of Mexican brown heroin, a ground and cut powder.

"During the 1970s, Pasco was being used as one of the main distribution centers in the Northwest. We developed some informants, identified volume dealers and with help of federal officials, cleaned things up. "

Then, he said, "We thought had a good handle on drug dealing and the emphasis went off narcotics."

But about he time Tri-City lawmen de-emphasized narcotics, "The Mexican trade started up," Moore said.

"The big difference between the black traders and the Mexican traders is that the Mexican dealers were so much more prolific. There were just so many of them.

"We were seeing heroin that was 2 to 6 percent pure. Suddenly with the Mexican trade we were seeing heroin in the Tri-Cities that was 79 percent pure. Some of these guys didn't even understand what they were selling. They were just doing a job for someone else."

Moore said the Tri-Cities needs a coordinated task force effort involving more federal authorities, state and local law agencies. "It takes commitment that's more than lip service and it takes a community saying 'We've had enough.'"

Lamp said his agency has made that commitment.

"My job is to keep going after the bad guys and we will persist with the available resources," he said.

Moore worries the massacre in Pasco could be a prophecy coming true.

"I was sitting in my office four years ago with a former narcotics agent. We were talking about the drug problems up and down the Lower Yakima Valley," he said.

"He said to me, 'Stan, this area's drug problem is going to be so bad that in three years we'll find bodies scattered all over.'"

"I hope that agent wasn't just a year late in his prediction," Moore said.