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Seized guns, drugs go up in smoke



Published: Sat, March 8, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The vice squad delivered 7,687 items to a local steel mill to burn.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Guns and roughly $2 million worth of drugs seized by the Youngstown Police Department aren't evidence anymore -- they're toast.

The 7,687 items delivered today to a local steel mill to burn included 595 handguns and 158 rifles, shotguns and other firearms. The firearms had been stored at the department's vice squad in 29 plastic containers and three huge plastic recycling bins.

Boxes of marijuana -- 500 pounds, in all -- and plastic wrapped packages of cocaine, plus hundreds of manila envelopes stuffed with crack cocaine and pharmaceuticals, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percodan and diet pills, also were burned. The burn order came from Judge Jack Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Street value

Lt. William Powell, vice squad commander, said the marijuana had a street value of about $1 million, as did the powdered and crack cocaine. The pharmaceuticals were worth about $10,000.

Painkiller pills have made a resurgence in the past year or so because they're easy to get and resell, Powell said. Often, people who have legitimate prescriptions for OxyContin, for example, will sell the pills, he said.

The sellers collect $40 for each 40 milligram pill and $80 for each 80-milligram pill, he said.

The cache burned represented nearly five years' work, Powell said. The vice squad, which conducts 600 to 700 raids each year, still has about $1 million worth of drugs and guns in its evidence locker storeroom that can't be destroyed until the court cases are finished, he said.

Nearly 80 percent of the drugs and guns destroyed were seized during court-authorized raids and consent searches of people, houses or vehicles, Powell said.

The vice squad often conducts raids with members of the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and U.S. Treasury Department Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Traffic stops

Drugs and guns seized during other enforcement, such as traffic stops, also make their way to the vice squad evidence locker.

"We find guns on nearly every search warrant and during car stops," Powell said.

The evidence collected over the past five years likely represents more than 3,000 arrests, Powell said. Drugs, he said, are still the city's biggest crime problem.

"It's not cause and effect, but prison studies show that drugs and alcohol are related to 90 percent of crimes committed," he said.

Patrolman Fred LoSasso, responsible for tracking and tagging each plastic container, bin, box and manila envelope, didn't seem affected by the pungent marijuana smell as he readied the lot for transport.

"No, the smell doesn't get to me," LoSasso said, holding up a large box stuffed with marijuana. "I'm used to it."

Powell pulled some of the pricey handguns from their evidence containers to show that criminals aren't using cheap "Saturday night specials" anymore. He said nearly 90 percent of the handguns seized were 9mm, 40-caliber and 45-caliber and worth $250 to $600 each.

The semiautomatic guns typically hold 10 to 15 rounds in their magazines, Powell said. Some have high-tech lasers -- just aim the red dot and fire, he added.

meade@vindy.com




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