We’ve become used to it now, the nightly news stories with the cameras panning over crates of seized drugs. Drug busts are big news and big events, although often more interesting for what we don’t see on television: The stakeouts, the leg work, the careful observations and research that goes into pulling off a successful bust. Still, they’re fascinating to watch and read about, and here are some of the biggest.
- The Hayward Heroin Bust – Still regarded as the biggest heroin bust of all time, on June 21, 1991 law enforcement seized 1200 pounds of China white heroin from a warehouse in Hayward, California in the San Francisco Bay area. The reports of the actual value varied, but generally centered between 2 and 4 billion (1991) dollars. It was enough heroin to provide a month’s supply to the nation’s then half-million heroin addicts. Five arrests were also made in connection with the case, which is also notable for the involvement of NBC News; apparently the NBC got wind of the arrest and requested access to the warehouse in exchange for keeping a lid on the story. Also of interest at the time was the list of investors in the Hayward warehouse, which included future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
- The Sylmar Cocaine Bust – In September 1989, what was considered the largest cocaine bust in history took place at a warehouse in Sylmar, California, with a stunning 21.4 tons of the white powder found stacked in boxes. The street value alone was estimated at nearly 7 billion dollars, and later evidence introduced in court noted that over the four months preceding the bust, another 77 tons of cocaine had moved through the warehouse. Seven arrests were made in connection with the event, including James Romero McTague, the manager of the Sylmar warehouse, who was sentenced to life without parole. Authorities noted during the trial phase that the 21 tons seized was enough cocaine to provide 5 doses for every man, woman and child in the U.S.
- The Tranquilandia Raid – Tranquilandia was the name of the laboratory set up by Pablo Escobar, once the head of the Medellin Cartel, in the jungles of Colombia. In 1984 Tranquilandia was raided by the Colombian government, acting in concert with DEA authorities (who tipped them off), seizing an estimated 14 tons of cocaine, worth more than 1 billion dollars at the time.
- The Coast Guard Panama Bust – In March 2007, off the Pacific coast of Panama, the U.S. Coast Guard boarded a 330-foot ship and got a nice surprise: 38,000 pounds (19 tons) of cocaine, stored in two containers. It was the largest maritime drug bust in history. The cocaine was valued at half a billion dollars.
- The River Mira Moment – In May 2005 Colombian police and navy confiscated nearly 14 tons of cocaine from a secret stash hidden on the banks of the River Mira in southern Colombia. “This is the biggest haul ever seized in the world in a single operation, in a single day and in a single place,” said General Jorge Castro, the head of Colombia’s national police. The cocaine had an estimated value of 325 million and was apparently the property of the notorious AUC (United Self-Defense Force of Colombia).
- The Australian Ecstasy Bust – In 2008, Australian police and custom officials announced that they had made the largest seizure of Ecstasy (MMDA) pills in history, nearly 4 and a half tons. The Ecstasy pills had been hidden in 3000 tomato cans. This was a huge moment for the Aussie authorities, if a little belated: The actual discovery had been made the year before, but law enforcement kept the news secret while they used the seizure to investigate and arrest those behind the shipment. The value of those little happy pills was estimated at nearly 300 million dollars.
- The 1984 Coast Guard Double Pot Bust – Finally, where we would be without a marijuana bust? On November 1, 1984, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Clover boarded a 60-foot yacht 150 miles southwest of San Diego, confiscating 13 tons of marijuana. Three days later another Coast Guard ship, this time the icebreaker CGC Northwind, stopped another boat and seized 20 tons, making the combined haul one of the biggest pot busts in history.
Gregg Gustafson is a freelance writer who is also an outside consultant for Drug-Rehab.org. Gustafson’s current position is to assist with daily research, writing and tracking patient’s drug rehab programs status and helping patient recovery needs.