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SPD Shuts Down Another Honduran Drug Ring In Downtown Seattle

Seattle police swept through the downtown Tuesday, rounding up nearly two dozen members of a large and well-organized Honduran drug ring, which was pulling in tens of thousands of dollars every day from crack sales along the Pike/Pine corridor.

Late last year, police began seeing an influx of a special type of crack cocaine, which hasn’t been seen much on downtown’s streets recently.

“We were noticing, at the street level, lots of the wafer-thin types of rock cocaine,” says West Precinct Captain Jim Dermody. That led police to set up “Operation Wafer-Thin”—after the potent, light wafers of crack sold by Honduran dealers—targeting the well-organized group which had set up shop downtown sometime in late 2011. 

“The number one thing I hear from the downtown community is about open air drug dealing and drug use,” says SPD West Precinct Captain Jim Dermody. “We want people to feel safe downtown. When they see drug deals, they don’t feel safe. That hurts everybody.”

In May 2012, bike patrol officers, the Anti-Crime Team, and Narcotics detectives set up stings on the Honduran dealers—who often worked in teams, along with lookouts and hired muscle—and sent in undercover officers and informants to buy drugs.

According to SPD Narcotics Lieutenant Mike Kebba, detectives found that the Honduran drug ring was made up of a clever, cautious, tight-knit group of dealers, who made sure to carry smaller amounts of purer cocaine in the hopes of avoiding stiffer criminal charges. “They carry limited amounts [of cocaine] so that if they did get caught, they wouldn’t be facing a huge felony,” says Kebba. “It’s higher quality, and you can beat a felony rap by carrying a smaller wafer, rather than a bigger rock, with less cocaine.”

Breaking down the economics of the group’s street dealing, Lt. Kebba explains the drug ring typically had about 30 dealers selling crack in the downtown core, primarily along 2nd Avenue between Union and Virginia Street.

Each of those dealers were selling $20 worth of cocaine wafers as many as 15 times an hour, earning $1,000-$2,000 in a 4-8 hour shift.

With all those dealers bringing in money, Lt. Kebba estimates the organization was pulling in $30,000 to $60,000 daily. “If you count that out over a six-month period, that’s a lot of money,” he says.

This isn’t the first time police have found themselves chasing a well-organized group of Honduran dealers in downtown. Three years earlier, police had cracked down on another group of Hondurans who had effectively taken over the drug trade in Belltown, selling their wafer cocaine.

Police dismantled the group, but within two years, West Precinct again began seeing the familiar Honduran-style wafers of crack cocaine showing up on downtown’s streets.

This time around, police arrested 21 suspected members of the Honduran drug ring, which police believe may have ties to a cartel.

Asked whether police expected to see a new group of dealers to set up shop downtown, filling the void left by the arrested Hondurans, Kebba countered “can’t you always say that?”

“You’re not going to find an organization like this replacing them,” Kebba says.