DEA Wiretaps OF CA Drug Ring May Not Be Deemed Legal, DOJ Fears


Federal drug agents built a massive wiretapping operation in the Los Angeles suburbs, secretly intercepting tens of thousands of phone calls and text messages to monitor drug traffickers across the U.S. despite objections from Justice Department lawyers who fear the practice may not be legal, USA Today reports. Nearly all of the surveillance was authorized by one state judge in Riverside County, who last year signed off on almost five times as many wiretaps as any other judge in the nation. The judge’s orders allowed investigators, most from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, to intercept more than 2 million conversations involving 44,000 people.

The eavesdropping is aimed at dismantling drug rings that have turned Los Angeles’ eastern suburbs into what DEA says is the busiest U.S. shipping corridor for heroin and methamphetamine. Riverside wiretaps are supposed to be tied to crime within the county, but investigators have relied on them to make arrests and seize shipments of cash and drugs as far away as New York and Virginia, sometimes concealing the surveillance in the process. The surveillance has raised concerns among DOJ lawyers in Los Angeles, who have mostly refused to use the results in federal court because they believe the state court’s eavesdropping orders are unlikely to withstand a legal challenge. “It was made very clear to the agents that if you’re going to go the state route, then best wishes, good luck and all that, but that case isn’t coming to federal court,” a former Justice Department lawyer said.

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