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Drug Laws and Gun Controls Are Just Business Opportunities for Corrupt Cops

Who watches the watchmen? Whoever is doing deals with them, off the books.

Following in the footsteps of so many people before him, Juan Pimentel saw opportunity in restrictive laws. It's an old story; government officials tell people they can't have what they want, and that prohibition creates a lucrative business opportunity for anybody willing to break the law to keep buyers happy. But when Pimentel was pulled over two weeks ago north of Tucson, Arizona with 150 pounds of forbidden cocaine destined for Chicago, there was something a little special about him: he was a U.S. Border Patrol agent—one of the people hired and trusted to enforce government officials' will.

Sarah Furay's case is a little different, since she had no badge in her wallet when she was busted last month in College Station, Texas with commercial quantities of cocaine, marijuana, Ecstasy, psychedelics, hash oil, and hydrocodone (one-stop shopping, indeed).  But she is the daughter of Bill Furay, a Drug Enforcement Administration official with the U.S. embassy in Panama and the former head of the DEA office in Galveston, Texas. No doubt, she's had ample opportunity to see the potential for profit in the laws her dear old dad enforces.

Worries about enforcers succumbing to the temptations of the things they're supposed to control are so old that they're most famously captured by a saying in a language that's been effectively dead for centuries: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen? Maybe the answer is the bartender. More recently than the long-gone days of ancient Rome, my great-grandfather served drinks to the then-New York City police commissioner at his speakeasy in the Bronx. My understanding is that, at the very least, the Prohibition-era top cop didn't have to worry about paying his tab.

Legal assaults on the relationships among willing buyers and sellers of goods and services that government officials don't like face special challenges. "Drug arrests and prosecutions are exceedingly difficult, owing to the absence of complaining victims and witnesses," pointed out a 1989 National Institute of Justice report on the challenges of enforcing laws against disfavored intoxicants. With no outraged victims to press charges, enforcers inevitably resort to underhanded tactics – but that raises all sorts of new dangers. "Informants and undercover operations--so essential to effective drug enforcement--inevitably draw police officers into close, potentially corrupting relationships with the offenders they are pledged to control," the report continued.

"Potentially corrupting?" How could such relationships not be potentially corrupting when upwards of $100 billion slosh through the black market for cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin every year, as estimated for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy by the RAND Corporation?

Cops, then, face a choice between enforcing restrictive laws on willing participants in banned markets—people who don't want or need any such "help" and deeply resent the imposition—or else trying to get a piece of that $100 billion for themselves.

No wonder some of them choose the path selected by Pimentel. Or that preferred by King County Sheriff's Deputy Mitchell Wright, who started as a member of an anti-drug task force and ended up reselling drugs seized as evidence. And then there are the six Philadelphia narcotics cops who stole over $500,000 from drug suspects. And the eight New York City police officers busted for dealing in tightly controlled (in New York) guns and cigarettes.

Yes, police can be corrupted by participants in all sorts of crimes—a bribe to look the other way is an old tradition. But prohibition-induced corruption really is a special variety, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a 1998 study:

"Enforcement of laws against all forms of vice (e.g., gambling, prostitution, and drugs) reportedly afford opportunities for police corruption. However, drug enforcement often exposes police officers to large amounts of cash and drugs held by individuals who are not likely to complain about illegal police behavior. Recent newspaper accounts, commission reports, academic studies, and other literature we reviewed suggest that today there are more opportunities than in the past for drug-related police corruption."

The GAO also concluded that, while most crooked cops traditionally were individuals taking a few bucks to look the other way, the prohibition-related variety typically involved groups of officers "actively committing crimes."

Probably the most famous example of exactly that is in Mexico, where special forces soldiers deserted from the army and established the drug cartel known as Los Zetas. It doesn't get more "actively committing crimes" than that.

Not even the most controlled environments, such as prisons, can change the incentives for corruption inherent in prohibitions. That's because those exercising the control have endless opportunities for turning a profit by violating the rules. When it comes to smuggling illicit items such as drugs, cigarettes and cell phones behind bars, "Often the people doing the smuggling are guards or other corrections employees," reports Matt Clarke for Prison Legal News.

Not that politicians seem prone to learn any lessons from the corrupting history of prohibitions. President Obama has made a hobby of following up news reports of murderous crimes with calls for new restrictions on firearms—most recently, just this past Sunday. Let's see, tighten restrictions on valuable goods that people want to own (record sales are recorded every time the president opens his mouth) and are willing to pay good money to purchase. What could go wrong?

Then again, maybe the outgoing chief executive is looking for post-presidential opportunities and intrigued by the example of California State Sen. Leland Yee, a gun control advocate who ran weapons on the side. It's not as if government officials haven't had plenty of experience illegally trafficking in firearms in recent years, as the gunwalking scandals so aptly demonstrated.

As Pimentel and Furay and so many law enforcers have shown us over the years, prohibitions are just good business and they have plenty of experience exploiting them for profit.

Photo Credit: CPB

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  • Suell||

    Chewing coca leaf is not a crime. To make it illegal is.

  • Hank Phillips||

    That phrase got the president of Bolivia elected to a third term, with change left over to give the Pope of Rome a gold hammer & sickle crucifix. With a few libertarians in Congress, US diplomats would probably not be booted out of Bolivia nearly so often. In South America, capitalism is taken to mean christianofascist prohibition, thanks to the GO Pee-in-a-Dixie-cup party of Rubio, Christie, Jeb Clampitt Revenooer, Cruz and that other prohibitionist Kenyan.

  • Jerryskids||

    As Pimentel and Furay and so many law enforcers have shown us over the years, prohibitions are just good business and they have plenty of experience exploiting them for profit.

    Exploiting prohibitions for profit is the name of the game with the regulatory state. Ask Uber. Or anybody involved in any of the thousands of businesses requiring licenses and permits and certifications for no good reason other than restricting entry into the business.

  • Trigger Hippie||

    Protecting the general piblic from the scourge of capitalism is in our own best interest. For Gia or some such shit.

  • MokFarin||

    It's to "help" the people who would be harmed. Honest. To prevent some one-off tragedy from every happening, again.

    Despite it never actually stopping the next time it happens (to which the reaction is always MORE restrictions.)

  • IceTrey||

    The proper function of government is to defend individual negative liberty with the retaliatory use of force.
    It's not that hard.

  • Loki||

    You would if you were a sociopath.

  • Hank Phillips||

    This is why I go for terms like "individual rights." Republicans apply the commutative principle to come up with "negating individual liberty" and run roughshod with that.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Well look who decided to show up...

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "Drug arrests and prosecutions are exceedingly difficult, owing to the absence of complaining victims and witnesses,"

    This was at a time when I'd dare say that government was slightly more honest.

  • dantheserene||

    I have heard tell that there was once a time when most modern criminal acts weren't even considered a "crime" if there was no victim.

  • ||

    The drug war gave america the prison industrial complex and wanna be commando pigs. The drug war gave mexico a real, live, lots of beheadings, ;lots of shooting kind of war.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Let's hope the people of Mexico take their revenge on the Republican Party and their Dem buddies. I am sick and tired of Middle East jihadists indiscriminately punishing the 99% of voters who, by Dem and GOP counts, "elected" those meddling creeps to bomb the Middle East and set up a prohibitionist puppet dictatorship in Mexico.

  • NebulousFocus||

    Too Chilly! Nice to see you around these parts again!

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    JD who?

  • ||

    Who doesn't take a lap around the old stomping grounds when they're home for holidays?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The problem is that just pounding on people only feeds the ego and not the wallet. Some need both. Except only one is state sanctioned.

  • Agammamon||

    Its really difficult for a cop to make it on 60k a year plus overtime and benefits. He looks at his firefighter neighbor and gets all jelly that a guy who gets to spend the day BBQing, working out, and sleeping just bought a second fishing boat.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Where are cops only making $60K? They average $107K in my town!

    (My township lists all their employees and salaries in the annual budget)

  • CatoTheChipper||

    For some reason, I just cannot help hoping that Sarah Furay gets the maximum sentence on separate counts for each substance that she had. However, that's a really heartless sentiment ... the sins of the father should not fall upon the daughter. Since it's only a fantasy anyway, I wish that DEA Dad would serve the sentence in her stead.

  • Hank Phillips||

    And if wishes were loaves and fishes we'd all have a feast at the Sermon on the Mount. Let us not think unkindly of our law enforcement officials and their relatives, for their motives must surely have been noble and altruistic.

  • Rt. Hon. Judge Woodrow Chipper||

    Maybe DCFS can take his children away.

  • some guy||

    Pimentel and Furay are lightweights. The proper path to prohibition profit is played out in Training Day. You don't move and sell the product. You simply mug the dealer after he has the money.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The polite term is "asset forfeiture," not mugging. In the movie they used "tax" as the verb for murdering the guy and robbing his money.

  • Jordan||

    Will little ole' Sarah Furay's dad see the light and figure out what a piece of shit he has been for enforcing these unjust laws, now? Nah, probably not. He'll just get her a special dispensation because it's different for the King's Men.

  • dantheserene||

    I haven't been able to take Jeb seriously as a candidate since at least the time his daughter got busted for drugs while he was a hardcore drug warrior to promptly declared his daughter's issues were a private family matter rather than a decade or more in jail.

  • dantheserene||

    As always, my kingdom for an "Edit" button.

  • Hank Phillips||

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of ye of little faith. If prohibitionist cults (mohammedans and christians) were consistent and had integrity, every last one of them would have been scraped off the walls centuries ago, and each of their 72 former virgins forced at gunpoint to out-reproduce the opposing "infidel" hordes in Paradise/Heaven. Jeb's daddy wanted a constitutional death sentence for marijuana shovers... it's in his speeches and presidential papers.

  • Stephdumas||

    Let's not forget also some corrupt politicians like Senator Leland Yee, an anti-gun activist caught of selling guns in the black market. Looks like life imitated art as shown in this episode of Gunsmith Cats. https://youtu.be/UN17Sao9Dcs?t=23m56s

  • ||

    If the FCA is succesful in getting full control of e-cigs, We will witness a great example of how the regulatory state hijacks a market and brings it to its knees. I cann't wait to start selling illegal candy flavored vape juice on the Internet.

  • ||

    FDA*

  • Hank Phillips||

    Beware that the Sick Road of prohibitionism doesn't lead a trillion dollars' worth of militarized teetotalitarians to your door with orders to taze until dead before asset-forfeiting your home and burdening next-of-kin with the subprime mortgage balance to pay off.

  • Hank Phillips||

    This is exactly what happens in Brazil, where the politicians who sign police paychecks call the tune when it comes to distributing cocaine and hemp confiscated on orders from These States through the CICAD, OAS, OTA, OFAC, GAFISUD, OPDAT, MERLAT, INL, FinCEN and DEA via AML, BCS, CTR, MERs, SARs, STRs and TTUs all funded by IRS tax dollars and asset forfeiture looting. Devout South American banana republicans operate with the help of GPML Mentors, who teach the poor, dissolute creatures how to write proper Methodist White Terror legislation and make it stick with gringo Prosecutor Placement Program graduates honed in the finer points of confiscation at gunpoint and incitement to bribery. The prohibited drugs are then loaded in politicians' personal helicopters for transportation to markets run by police with operative underworld connections to generate campaign funds for the 32 political parties subsidized by Nixon-esque campaign oligopsony laws.

  • Alan@.4||

    Funny, how some people notice things, while others don't, or so pretend.

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