I-TEAM: Several local communities among hottest destinations for illegal drug shipments in Ohio

DAYTON — A News Center 7 I-Team investigation found drug dealers mailed more than 150 tons of drugs like meth, marijuana, and fentanyl through the U.S. mail in the last few years. Nearly eight tons of it were headed to Ohio.

The I-Team’s lead investigative reporter, John Bedell, dug into why investigators are finding so much of it in the Miami Valley and which neighborhoods those potentially deadly deliveries were headed to.

U.S. Postal inspectors told the I-Team that finding packages with meth, fentanyl, and other dangerous drugs is one of their top priorities because they know the deadly impact those have had in our communities. So, the I-Team dug through the data to see which of the local areas are the hottest spots in the state for seizing packages with those drugs inside.

“If you can point out one person that is not affected somewhere, be it a friend or relative or cousin? You are one in a million,” That’s what Lonzel Johnson Jr., of Dayton, told News Center 7 about the deadly threat of drug addiction. He knows it impacts so many people in the Miami Valley.

Sue Clarkson, of Dayton, said she’s seen the tragic effects of drugs during her ministry work. “I work at the Gospel Mission in an inner-city ministry,” Clarkson said. “And we’ve lost a lot of our congregation over the years with sudden death ... and dealt with a lot of the kids who’ve lost their parents (to drug addiction).”

Clarkson said she was “disgusted” to learn just how many of the dangerous drugs in our communities are delivered right to users’ doors.

The News Center 7 I-Team filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see just how many.

Over the last three years (2020, 2021, and 2022) data from the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) shows U.S. postal inspectors seized 22,028 packages containing more than 21 tons of harder drugs like meth, cocaine, and fentanyl.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) works with postal inspectors and other law enforcement partners to stop those potentially deadly deliveries and catch the criminals who sent them. Data the I-Team received from our records request shows most of the packages of meth and fentanyl shipped to Ohio are sent from border states like California and Arizona.

“Cartels are utilizing the mail system -- the U.S. Postal Service,” said Jason Schumacher, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Cincinnati DEA Office.

“We’ve seen such an uptick in fentanyl and the distribution of fentanyl in the United States,” Schumacher said during a one-on-one interview with the I-Team in Dayton last week. “Using the U.S. mail is a common method that we know that the drug traffickers are using. Primarily the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco cartel, also known as the CJNG. So, these are common practices.”

The I-Team found Ohio leads the nation for the number of packages of fentanyl intercepted by U.S. postal inspectors in the last three years. And when you look at how many pounds of fentanyl and meth was inside packages addressed to Ohio in that time frame, we’re second in the country, ahead of much bigger states.

“Ohio, unfortunately, was very hard hit by the opioid epidemic,” Daniel Adame, Postal Inspector in Charge of the Contraband Interdiction and Investigations Division for USPIS told the I-Team. “And a lot of the overdoses that we saw going back for many years. So, we have taken a very proactive role in our Cleveland-area, Cincinnati-area, to really focus on these things and to figure out how we can have kind of high-impact investigations. I think the other part of that is the U.S. Attorney’s Office there has been very, very helpful in moving those cases forward.”

The I-Team found Dayton is one of the hottest destinations for illegal drug shipments in Ohio.

When the I-Team broke it down by zip code, 45406, which includes a section of northwest Dayton and parts of Harrison Township, was number one in Ohio for seized packages of fentanyl. And 45417, which includes parts of Dayton, Trotwood, Drexel, and Moraine was third in pounds of meth intercepted.

“We’re not the biggest city in the state. Why is Dayton such a hotspot for these drugs,” Bedell asked Assistant Special Agent in Charge Schumacher with the DEA. “Dayton, as we know with the DEA and working with our state local counterparts, DEA Dayton is a very busy office,” Schumacher said. “It just seems to be a place -- a hub -- where a lot of traffickers (go). It’s easy to go north on (Interstate) 75. It’s easy to go east or west from there. So, it has been -- historically this is a very busy area for drug trafficking.”

Schumacher added Dayton is a “hub” for drug traffickers setting up distribution points because we’re within a day’s drive (a 500-mile radius) of many major U.S. cities.

“This goes into the cartel’s business practice and how they can be most efficient and effective,” Schumacher said. “But we’re aware of that. And the coordination that we have with all our offices, not only in the United States but around the world, has helped us become effective to disrupt these organizations.”

Lonzel Johnson Jr. says he’s glad law enforcement agencies like USPIS and DEA have worked together to catch so many drug packages, but he knows more work is needed.

“It’s crazy,” Johnson said. “(Drugs are) destroying our neighborhoods. It’s causing our streets to be chaotic. It’s causing our youth to be out of control. Something has to be done.”

Postal inspectors told the I-Team they are trying. They’ve launched a new southwest border initiative to crack down on packages before they leave states like California and Arizona to try to stop them before they ever get to Ohio.

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