On the Price of a Suitcase Full of Cocaine in D.C.

Exactly how much is a suitcase full of cocaine worth? As reported here first, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department, in conjunction with the FBI, made the largest District cocaine bust in years last week. Everyone agreed on the weight of the dope that had been stashed in a suitcase: nearly 30 kilos. But the locals and the feds used very different numbers in describing how much the contraband was worth.

Federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's office yesterday said that the drugs were worth about$1 million. A nice haul! But this morning, District Police Chief Cathy Lanier told WTOP the drugs could set you back some $3 million. Even nicer!

The difference? The feds were using wholesale numbers, while the city cops were citing retail.

Officials from the respective agencies say the difference makes sense. "When it hits the neighborhoods, it is sold for retail, so it’s worth $3 million," says MPD spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump about the $2 million difference.

William Miller, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office, says his office has no problem with MPD using the larger number: He says there "wasn't a particular reason" for prosecutors going with the wholesale figure and that "MPD certainly has the right to use street value as well."

Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Chris Jakim says the price difference between the wholesale cost of the drugs and the street cost may seem dramatic but that "both numbers sound about right." The street value of cocaine can be double or triple the wholesale. When announcing drug seizures, the DEA usually goes with the wholesale value, says Jakim, but that's because the agency focuses exclusively on high-volume drug dealing, he says.

According to a drug cop speaking on condition of anonymity, MPD does a complicated set of calculations in order to figure out the street value of drugs. The calculation takes into account the way the city's cocaine economy usually works.

Wholesale cocaine dealers operating in the District will sell a kilo to mid-level dealers. The mid-level dealers then step on it (mix it with other substances to increase the volume) and sell it in the form of 31s (31 gram packs) or 62s (62 gram packs) to low-level dealers who likely cook the coke into crack. The crack is usually sold in $10 bags.

MPD didn't provide the particulars of  the formula it uses to figure out street value, and the drug cop doesn't know. But he thinks it's important to cite the street value whenever informing the public about a drug bust all the same.. "Basically, when you use the street value, you're showing why these idiots are doing this."On the Price of a Suitcase Full of Cocaine in D.C.

was originally published byWashington City Paper

on May 5, 2011

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