Thanks to the White House, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub has new tools at his disposal for targeting drug dealers.
In an announcement this week, the federal government revealed that Bucks County and Gloucester County in New Jersey are the latest to join the Liberty Mid-Atlantic High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), a coalition of now nine counties that receive federal funding to investigate and prosecute drug-trafficking organizations.
“Rather than fighting this fight on a piecemeal basis, we’ll now be able to strengthen our efforts to the point where the whole is greater than the individual crime-fighting parts,” Weintraub said Thursday. “Unless you are targeting drug dealers on a micro level, as in somebody selling drugs on a street corner for a nickel or dime a bag, you need to expand your vision and your reach.”
The Liberty Mid-Atlantic HIDTA, first established by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1995, covers an area that stretches from Chadds Ford to the Atlantic Ocean. Bucks is the last county in Southeastern Pennsylvania to join the coalition, which also includes New Castle County in Delaware and Camden, Atlantic, and the newly added Gloucester in New Jersey.
“Drug traffickers don’t stop at the dotted lines on the map,” said Jeremiah Daley, the executive director of the local HIDTA. “They operate regionally. One operating in Northeast Philly is probably distributing in eastern Montgomery County and Bucks County.”
The designation provides the county access to federal funding for specialized training, and allows its prosecutors to use expanded intelligence-gathering and surveillance tools. Joining the HIDTA doesn’t include a specific amount of direct funding each year, however.
“Some counties may be more technologically advanced and have resources we don’t have here,” Weintraub said. “Now, by virtue of our membership, we have access to this large multicounty, multijurisdictional evidence gathering.”
In surrounding counties, Weintraub’s counterparts have used the program successfully: Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, for example, used HIDTA resources to create a unit that exclusively investigates rogue, “pill mill” doctors.
“Statistically, over the last half-decade or more, we can see particularly how the opioid problem has expanded beyond historic urban centers and into bedroom communities across the country, Bucks County included,” Daley said. “And despite great strides made by DA’s offices, no doubt some federal resources would benefit them.”
At 209, Bucks County had the second-highest number of fatal opioid overdoses in Greater Philadelphia in 2018, according to state data.
Diane Rosati, the executive director of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, said the county agency was pleased with the new designation and sees it as further indication the opioid epidemic has affected the entire region.
“Our overall goal is to reduce fatal overdoses, and we’ve seen a slight decrease last year and in the first six months of this current calendar year,” she said. “Through law enforcement intervention, hopefully they’ll be able to reduce access [to drugs] and trafficking. But we’re also focused on helping folks access treatment as soon as possible and intervening as early as possible.”
The federal government also takes the number of nonfatal overdoses, drug arrests, and people in addiction treatment into account, according to Daley. Over the years, he said, the local HIDTA was collaborating more and more often with Bucks County on investigations.
Daley made specific reference to a home on Cheryl Drive in Warminster that was raided in December. In its basement, investigators found a sophisticated heroin-packaging operation that they estimate raked in $8 million a week.
Daley said that HIDTAs are generally focused on those mid-level to high-level drug-trafficking organizations — “the profiteers.”