OIG Finds Issues in DEA Chain of Custody on Seized Drugs

OIG Finds Issues in DEA Chain of Custody on Seized Drugs

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WASHINGTON — A report by the Office of the Inspector General revealed the Drug Enforcement Administration did not always follow specific policies when dealing with seized drugs.

The report, released in February, examined the methods in which the DEA handles seized drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and others. In 2015, the DEA operated out of 221 domestic offices, 86 foreign offices and employed nearly 5,000 employees with a budget of approximately $2 billion, according to the OIG report.

The OIG examined 250 exhibits of seized drugs to see how they were handled during the DEA’s investigation process. Out of the 250 samples, 128 did not have the gross weight of the seized drug listed, as per DEA policy. When DEA managers were asked about this discrepancy by OIG their responses differed.

“One manager provided no explanation,” the report states, adding, “another stated that the missing weights were an oversight…and the third manager informed us that he was not aware of the requirement to document the gross weight of the exhibit.”

The New York office saw 80% of their exhibits tested had undocumented weight, according to the report. Almost half of all exhibits tested had undocumented weight.

The New York office also fell behind on their ledgers, which document chain of custody on evidence. Ten samples tested at the New York office were not entered in the ledger and nine had incomplete ledgers, according to the report.

Another issue found by the OIG had to do with having a witness present when drugs are seized and processed.

“While the DEA Agents Manual does not specifically require the documentation of the presence of a witness,” the report says, “the manual does state that ‘all due care must be exercised.’”

Eleven percent of the samples reviewed by the OIG lacked witness documentation. The report found that 21 percent of the Houston office’s inventory lacked witness documentation.

The report also found that many DEA agents did not fill out proper paperwork for chain of custody because, “the special agents are often uncertain how to fill out the form.” However, no explanation was given to the OIG for why some paperwork was missing.

From 2011 to 2014 the DEA seized approximately 280,000 pounds of cocaine, 9,150 pounds of heroin, 32,000 pounds of methamphetamine and 2.8 million pounds of marijuana, according to the report.

The OIG examined only 250 samples in their investigation.

Read the full report here.

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