Northwest Asian Weekly
The Seattle Police Department reported the March 27 arrest of 25 suspects in a three-month operation called “Rock and Hock” that targeted drug dealing and the trafficking of stolen cell phones and computers in the Chinatown-International District.
Seattle police raided a Vietnamese restaurant and a tent in the woods near 12th Avenue and Jackson Street, where they also found a woman selling illegally purchased shrimp out of a van.
The operation by SPD’s Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) stemmed from a January request by the East Precinct’s captain for help in addressing drug dealing in the area, according to an SPD spokesman.
“My officers were seeing car prowls and drug deals out there, and growing unrest in the community,” said East Precinct Captain Pierre Davis. “Once officers started putting these cases together, one arrest led to another.”
“Informants were telling us it was so bad that you couldn’t walk down the street without getting hit up to buy drugs or electronic food-assistance benefit cards,” said Detective Todd Jakobsen.
The first break in the operation came after a burglar, who was arrested in downtown Seattle, tipped police that One-Stop Wireless, on Jackson Street, which was previously raided by the MCTF in 2009 for trafficking stolen cell phones and computers, was back in business, according to the SPD.
“Before One-Stop opened up their doors at 10 o’clock every morning,” Det. Jakobsen said, “there would be a line of people looking to sell iPhones and iPads they had stolen the night before.”
MCTF detectives served a warrant at One-Stop on Jan. 14, and seized 804 suspected stolen computers, iPods, and cell phones, as well as $226,000 in cash.
While working the One-Stop case, detectives also began a drug sting near 12th and Jackson. Undercover officers and informants began buying drugs — primarily crack cocaine — in the neighborhood. The MCTF identified more than two dozen dealers, and began building cases against the suspects.
The drug investigation also led detectives to a tent in the woods under I-5 near 8th Avenue South and South Jackson Street. Police learned the tent was being used by suppliers to traffic several ounces of crack cocaine every day in the neighborhood around 12th. This tent was also recently the site of at least one reported shooting.
Detectives also noticed a number of drug dealers in the neighborhood frequenting the Thanh Tam Restaurant, said an SPD spokesman. One police informant told detectives they had purchased drugs from the restaurant’s owners more than 100 times. On March 26, police recovered $17,000 and 16 grams of cocaine at the business.
While investigating the drug and stolen cell phone operations, the MCTF received another request for assistance, this time from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which was investigating Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) fraud around 12th and Jackson.
Once the MCTF began investigating with the USDA, they found that middlemen were recruiting people off the street to sell their EBT benefits to clerks at the Minh Tam Market, according to the SPD. The clerks paid undercover officers and informants 50 cents on the dollar for their card benefits, sometimes offering up crack cocaine in lieu of cash. After investigating Minh Tam, MCTF served warrants at the business and recovered more than $424,000 in cash.
MCTF detectives also learned of a woman who was well known around 12th and Jackson for buying EBT cards off the street. After making contact with the woman and offering to sell her EBT cards, the woman took undercover officers to several Asian grocery stores near 12th and Jackson, according to the SPD, where she used the undercover agents’ EBT cards to buy cartfuls of meat, seafood, and large bags of rice, which she loaded into her minivan.
Detectives also noticed that store employees helped the woman skirt EBT regulations, allowing her to use multiple cards at a time, and breaking up large purchases of food to avoid raising any flags in the EBT system.
Detectives continued investigating the woman and followed her in the middle of the night, as she pulled her van into an alleyway and sold $1,000 worth of frozen shrimp she had just purchased through EBT fraud. When detectives later arrested her, she had about twenty 50-pound bags of rice in her van. “Her minivan was weighed down so much that it was sitting three inches off the ground,” Det. Jakobsen said. Police also served a warrant on her home, where they seized $3,000 in cash.
The woman and suspects associated with the Minh Tam Market are now facing fraud charges as a result of the operation, said the SPD. Officials from USDA and the Department Social and Health Services are also investigating the businesses involved in the EBT card schemes, and the businesses could lose their ability to accept EBT card payments, according to police.
“We’re going to go through 12th and Jackson and arrest all those dealers, get them off the street,” said Det. Jakobsen, adding that graffiti and debris will be cleaned up and more officers will be patrolling the area.
We’re going to take that area back for the community,” Det. Jakobsen said.
“This operation will be good for the International District community,” said Captain Davis. “We’re not just doing enforcement in the neighborhood, we’re looking at the environment as well. The community is a big part of this.” (end)