By Ethan Barton
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents didn’t always properly track or record information about seized narcotics, which opened the evidence to tampering, theft and loss, a government watchdog reported Thursday.
The DEA didn’t always report seized drugs or their weights, and would neglect to inform laboratories of incoming narcotic shipments, according to a Department of Justice inspector general report. The agency seized nearly 112,000 kilograms of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine and nearly 49,000 doses of hallucinogens in 2014.
“Drugs were not always properly recorded in the Temporary Drug Ledger,” which is the “formal record of seized and collected drugs stored at DEA field divisions,” the report said. “When drugs are not entered into the ledger properly, or are not entered at all, the risk that evidence will be lost increases.”
“Gaps in the formal documentation of the chain of custody for drugs can also compromise the security of the drugs and jeopardize the government’s ability to use the evidence in court proceedings,” it continued.
The DEA was formed by former President Richard Nixon in 1973 to fight the federal government’s war against illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Additionally, the gross weight of seized drugs was not recorded in more than half of the 250 reviewed cases.
Recording the gross weights “provides a benchmark for future weight calculations, thereby helping to prevent loss and ensure the integrity of the evidence for prosecution,” the report said. In fact, gross weights for 80 percent of the reviewed drug seizures weren’t recorded in the New York field division.
The DEA also didn’t inform laboratories of incoming seized drug shipments.
“As a result, the laboratories did not know to expect delivery and would not have been able to identify and follow up on missing shipments in a timely fashion,” the report said.
Seized drugs weren’t quickly entered into the required database in 58 out of 346 reviewed cases.
“Delayed entry of drugs into a laboratory’s inventory system increases the risk of evidence tampering, misplacement, and loss,” the report said.
The IG also reported the DEA didn’t use tracking numbers on evidence bags as a control method.
“The officials did not provide a reason but stated that they were unaware of any past use of the number, or any plans to use the numbers for tracking purposes,” the report said. “We believe that including the evidence bag number … would allow detection of anyone opening the evidence bag, tampering with the evidence, and then placing the evidence into a new bag.”
The DEA agreed to follow the IG’s recommendations to improve the controls over seized and collected drugs.