Metro abductions up on 'flood of drugs'
By MARY LOU PICKEL
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/20/08
A recent increase in drug-related kidnappings in Gwinnett County has put a spotlight on drug violence in Georgia, federal agents say.
About nine drug-related kidnappings have occurred in Gwinnett this year. The latest involved a man bound and chained in a basement in Lilburn who was rescued by federal agents last week.
Mexican drug cartels are moving large amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana into the country for distribution up the East Coast, said Rodney Benson, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Atlanta.
Drug-related kidnappings have increased in the past 90 days, he said. Gwinnett is a center of Mexican drug cartel activity in the area because of easy transportation on I-85 and a large Hispanic population where traffickers can try to blend in, said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia David Nahmias.
Three Gwinnett cases in the past three months have involved a kidnapping victim held in a home and released after a police rescue or a stakeout of a ransom drop.
In one case this month, police shot and killed a kidnapping suspect in a ransom pick-up. In another police arrested nine accused drug traffickers in Lawrenceville, the youngest a 16-year-old girl.
Representatives of Mexican drug cartels in Atlanta are "clashing with each other," the DEA's Benson said.
"That's pretty terrifying to most citizens in our state," Nahmias said.
"We are very concerned about the type of extreme violence we've seen on the Mexican side of the border starting to come to this side of the border and to North Georgia
," Nahmias said.
Drug traffickers are also getting younger, Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Keith Miles said.
"Our cases are going up," Miles said. "We got 15-year-olds out here slinging kilos of cocaine. When that's going on in this county, that's a big problem."
In addition to the rescues, three or four kidnapping cases in the past six to eight months have involved victims who were released with minimal police action, Gwinnett police spokesman Illana Spellman said.
"The victims are suspected drug runners or drug dealers, and they're making someone mad," Spellman said. "Somehow, they came up short."
Family members of suspected drug dealers called police to say their relative had been kidnapped, Spellman said.
In these cases, police have called the victim's cellphone and let kidnappers know they're on the case. Then the matter resolved itself, Spellman said.
"We find out the victim's back at home and everyone says it was a 'big misunderstanding,' " Spellman said.
Assistant District Attorney Miles says the up-tick in kidnappings is not a "blip."
More and more drugs are coming into Gwinnett, he said.
"It's just a flood
," Miles said.
"It's just a matter of time before innocent people get caught in the crossfire," he said.