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Drug Dealers Lose in Satellite Mess

May 21, 1998 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Street-level drug dealers may have been among the biggest losers when a satellite glitch that silenced the pagers that pushers use to connect with customers, police and one former dealer say.

``They’re losing millions, no doubt about it,″ said Scott, a recently reformed methamphetamine manufacturer and user who spoke on the condition that his last name was not used.

``They’re scrambling right now. It’s probably the largest effect on the street dynamic of drug sales, the largest positive effect,″ he said Wednesday. ``The war on drugs is a failure. This pager mishap is better than anything the government could do.″


Police agreed that the pager outage likely put a crimp in dealers’ ways. Just how much it slowed drug sales was not immediately clear.

``In law enforcement we all know that drug dealers use pagers to assist them in the sale of illicit narcotics,″ said Lt. Anthony Alba of the Los Angeles Police Department.

``That’s about the only positive thing I can think of so far that’s come out of this. These clandestine businesspeople are trying to find new and different ways to sell drugs. Hopefully, this will make their efforts more difficult and cause more of them to get caught,″ he said.

The drug-trafficking difficulties helped make up for the inconvenience the outage caused some law enforcement officers. Dozens of pagers used by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department went blank when the PanAmSat’s Galaxy IV satellite rolled out of position on Tuesday.

``I know it’s impacting us, and if it’s impacting us it’s impacting them,″ said Lt. Art Ng of the sheriff’s narcotics division.

LAPD pagers were not affected, Alba said.

In New York, police resorted to pre-pager days, using telephones and radio transmissions to get by, said Police Commissioner Howard Safir.

Over the past decade, the pager has become an essential tool for small-time street dealers because they provide an extra level of security from visual and electronic surveillance of police. A dealer with a pager doesn’t have to stay close to a specific telephone, which police can tap, or a particular location that police can watch.

``It also allows the drug dealer to see who is calling them. If it is an unfamiliar number, they will not call back, if they are moving a lot of product,″ Scott said in a telephone interview from a Narconon residential program in Newport Beach, where he enrolled two months ago to kick his meth addiction.


Getting rid of the pager is part of kicking drugs, said Clark Carr, president of Narconon International in Los Angeles.

``That’s one of the first things we take when they come in,″ Carr said.

Scott, 24, voluntarily entered rehabilitation after making meth operations in Huntington Beach, Sacramento and Vancouver, Wash. In each city, he manufactured the drug for about $1 per pound and sold it for $5,000 per pound, he said. But police were never far behind. He moved whenever he felt them closing in.

``You come to the point of no return when you sell your soul,″ he said. ``There’s not an option left.″