The U.S. Postal Inspection Service


Aerosol can with a false bottom used to conceal vials of cocaine
This aerosol can from the 1990s looks innocent enough, but drug traffickers emptied it and created a false bottom(right) to conceal vials of cocaine (middle).

Combating illegal drug trafficking and protecting postal employees from handling illegal narcotics are among the Postal Inspection Service’s greatest challenges. Postal inspectors use tips, intelligence from other agencies, tracking techniques and trained dogs to locate drug shipments and anticipate the increasingly sophisticated ways drugs are concealed in the mail.

The Postal Inspection Service and law enforcement partners arrest and indict thousands of suspects each year for drug trafficking through the mail. Tens of thousands of pounds of illegal narcotics are seized, along with millions of dollars in drug trafficking proceeds.

Coast to Coast Drug Bust

An inspector exercises a search warrant for drug interdiction investigations.

Fake addresses spotted in California led to a string of drug busts all the way to New York and New Jersey. In 1996 a San Diego team launched an extensive drug interdiction program. It began with targeting packages suspected of containing drugs or drug payments. When they investigated the addresses on the packages, they found that most shared the same fake location that put the imaginary address a few blocks too far west into the Pacific Ocean.

They matched the packages’ addresses to surveillance photos of customers suspected of mailing drugs. After the photos were provided to postal clerks, one recognized a suspect in the post office and copied down his license plate information. Inspectors, with assistance from local law enforcement, identified a person named Alan Elfand. His name was the first clue that led to a family crime network. Alan’s cousin John was associated with the Tijuana, Mexico-based Arellano Felix Organization drug cartel. John’s father, Ralph, had ties to organized crime on the East Coast. The Elfands were making $2 million per year on trafficking drugs through the mail.

After months of detective work, inspectors made a case against the traffickers. Federal and local law enforcement from the San Diego area, New Jersey, and New York areas coordinated their information. In 1998, a raid on Alan’s residence in La Jolla, California, turned up stashes of cash, a small crop of marijuana, and copious boxes of dryer sheets, which were used in the mailing packages to try to mask the drugs’ odor. Meanwhile officials in New York City went after Alan’s uncle Ralph. In Ralph’s four-story warehouse, officers uncovered the largest indoor marijuana production plant in the city’s history—with over 2000 plants in the several thousand foot space. The case against the Elfands and their associates was solid and resulted in 14 convictions without having to go to trial. Alan and Ralph Elfand received five-year sentences each; John got ten years.