Fighting the Illicit Traffickers


Mr. G. H. White has been a federal narcotics law enforcement officer for more than twenty years. He has made narcotics investigations in every state of the Union as well as in Mexico, Canada, India, Iran, Irak, Turkey, the Middle East, France, Italy, Ecuador, Peru and Cuba. He served during the war in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in India and the Middle East, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is the recipient of the Treasury Department's highest order, the Gold Medal for Exceptional Services.


Author: George H. White
Pages: 7 to 10
Creation Date: 1953/01/01

Fighting the Illicit Traffickers

George H. White District. Supervisor of thc Bureau of Narcotics for the six New England states

Mr. G. H. White has been a federal narcotics law enforcement officer for more than twenty years. He has made narcotics investigations in every state of the Union as well as in Mexico, Canada, India, Iran, Irak, Turkey, the Middle East, France, Italy, Ecuador, Peru and Cuba. He served during the war in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in India and the Middle East, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is the recipient of the Treasury Department's highest order, the Gold Medal for Exceptional Services.

I was grappling with a small man of 65 years and had managed to lock one bracelet of a handcuff around his wrist. Although ordinarily more than a match for the 150-pound Señor Manuel Jarrín, the Quito altitude of almost two miles had robbed my 210-pound bulk of oxygen and energy and my captive smuggler was fighting for his life and liberty.

My sole ally, much the same size as our quarry, was posing as "Pedro", my chauffeur. Actually, he was Philip Abdón Guerra, colonel of the Ecuadorian Army and chief of all the nation's police.

We were in the process of arresting approximately a dozen Ecuadorians against whom evidence of narcotic smuggling had been secretly gathered over a period of six weeks by a joint effort of the authorities of Ecuador and the United States. I had posed as a buyer of narcotics in large quantities and Sr. Jarrín had considered me a valued customer until I had visited him in his apartment this particular morning with my chauffeur. I made a purchase of three additional pounds of raw opium, where upon Pedro identified himself as chief of the Guardia Civil and placed Jarrín under arrest.

Sr. Jarrín, apparently incredulous that two such characters -- an American dope-peddler and his inoffensive chauffeur -- could actually represent the police, violently resisted. In the mêlée, Jarrín was joined by his household of women: wife, relatives, servants. I devoted myself to the prisoner (without too much success), while Colonel Guerra attempted to fend off the enraged attacking Amazons. Although we were both armed with revolvers it was obviously not the time or place to use such weapons. With a black-jack, a short vicious club, I tried to rap the female hands seeking to rescue my prisoner.

Suddenly a servant appeared-- an Indian woman carrying an infant on her back. In her hand she held a heavy iron skillet. I tried to parry her thrust and failed. The skillet hit me over the left eye. A lucky swing with the black-jack caused the servant to drop the skillet and retreat.

A sudden pounding at the front door announced the arrival of reinforcements. Uniformed officers of Colonel Guerra's command swarmed into the apartment and the fight was over.

The raids, which were conducted in extreme secrecy for almost forty-eight hours, netted a dozen prisoners and huge quantities of narcotic drugs, including heroin, raw opium, morphine, cocaine and marihuana. We also seized a clandestine laboratory and two chemists who had been processing opium into morphine.

This operation, in the spring of this year, resulted from the collaboration between the United States Commissioner of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger, and Dr. Camillo Ponce, Prime Minister of Ecuador. Opium poppies were discovered to be cultivated in vast plantations in inaccessible, mountainous regions of Ecuador and the opium was finding its way into the United States and into South American countries. Both Ecuador and the United States were seriously concerned with this novel situation and I was dispatched by Commissioner Anslinger to give such assistance as possible to the Ecuadorian officials. With the assistance of American Ambassador Paul C. Daniels, arrangements were made with Dr. Ponce to permit me to work in an undercover capacity in direct co-operation with Col. Guerra. I was also assisted by a Sr. López, an Ecuadorian who had lived in the United States for many years, who acted as my interpreter.

The most important result of this operation was not the imprisonment of the traffickers for the maximum term under Ecuadorian law, but the public attention brought to a situation which was potentially a great danger to all of the American countries. The opium traffic in Ecuador had grown swiftly and silently. As a result of the investigation, more stringent laws were put into effect by the Ecuadorian Government and greater attention was directed to narcotics law enforcement.

Leaving Ecuador, I proceeded to Lima. Prior to 1948 illicit cocaine was readily available to all comers in the cabarets, bars and hotels. Now, in 1953, I found it was just as difficult to purchase cocaine there, in large or small quantities, as it would be in New York City, despite the fact that7 most of the world's supply of cocaine is produced in Peru. This sharp and dramatic change in the clandestine narcotics traffic was brought about by a similar collaboration between Peruvian and United States authorities in 1948. As a result of joint investigations, the cocaine traffic was practically eliminated overnight. Peru enacted laws providing severe penalties for narcotic traffickers and established a squad of the national police to concentrate upon such criminal traffic.

This type of international police co-operation has been particularly effective since 1948. In that year, I was dispatched by Commissioner Anslinger to various Mediterranean areas which were indicated as sources of supply for drugs reaching the United States. I first went to Istanbul and disclosed my mission to high police authorities. They offered and gave ample co-operation. Posing as a buyer of illicit narcotics, I quickly made contact with a ring of smugglers through the proprietor of a low café frequented by seamen of all nationalities. This man, speaking to me through an interpreter which he supplied, arranged for me to meet other members of his organization and in the space of a few days I was prepared to take delivery of a large quantity of heroin which I was presumably to smuggle into the United States. After making final arrangements with the police, I was led to a small house on the banks of the Bosphorus where the drugs were produced and we haggled over the price. The Turkish police had the area surrounded. Detectives disguised as postmen, street-workers, sailors, cab drivers, etc., filled the block, pursuing the occupation indicated by their costume. One crew of detectives, disguised as labourers, even began digging up the cobble-stone street in front of the house. When an agreement had been reached as to price I handed one of the three smugglers present a large sum of money, as it was necessary under Turkish law actually to complete the financial transaction before the crime was technically consummated. I thereupon broke the window of the rear room, the prearranged signal for the police to enter and make the arrests

Queen Amapola

Full size image: 31 kB, Queen Amapola

Three traffickers and theri stock in trade

Full size image: 31 kB, Three traffickers and theri stock in trade

We had misjudged the amount of noise the breaking of the window would cause and the police did not receive the signal. I had coincidentally identified myself as an American policeman and when the smugglers recovered from their shocked surprise there were indications I was in for trouble. The chief of police had provided me with a small revolver and when the weapon was displayed it caused a temporary lull in hostilities. I thereupon picked up a small wooden chair and hurled it through the window, breaking the remaining glass. Luckily, it hit upon a tin roof on the slope of the hill and this time the police received the signal; sailors, postmen, cab drivers, labourers, etc., suddenly dropped their tools and, to the amazement of spectators, ran to the house, forced the door and entered, capturing all of the traffickers.

Investigation continued and the police located a large clandestine laboratory operated by the gang and seized a total of 18 kg of pure heroin; they also learnt, through interrogation of those arrested, the identity of the other members of this international ring, including persons in the United States.

Two years later I was instrumental in bringing about the arrest of persons in New Jersey, Mexico City, Los Angeles, New York and Florida, on the basis of the clues found on the persons arrested in Turkey.

From Istanbul I went on to Marseilles and, after checking in with the Sûreté, again resumed my role as American buyer of drugs in an Indo-Chinese café of the Old Quarter; I became friendly with a Chinese bartender who spoke some English. I soon acquainted him with my purpose and he, in turn, introduced me to the proprietress, a French woman known as "Zizi", a drug addict; she was married to an Indo-Chinese, also a drug addict. I negotiated for the purchase of a large quantity of opium and this was eventually supplied to me in another small café by the French woman, her husband and three Chinese. Inspector Pasquier, of the Sûreté, and the American vice-consul, William Canup, who was acting as my interpreter, had kept me under surveillance, and when the drugs were delivered Inspector Pasquier observed my signal and made the arrests. Pasquier, Canup and I continued the investigation and later in the day Zizi offered to betray her source of supply in exchange for clemency. Her offer was accepted and she thereupon took me to a café in the Corsican section of the city and introduced me to a man known as "Dominique".

I had unwittingly met the principal object of my inquiry in this area. Some months before, a large shipment of heroin had been seized in New York and the seaman smugglers identified their source of supply, as Dominique of Marseilles.

We were fearful the news of the arrest of the French woman and her companions would soon become known and it was necessary that we conclude some transaction with Dominique that very night if possible. I explained as best I could, as Zizi interpreted with sparse English, that I was leaving for the United States the following day and required to purchase as large a quantity of heroin as possible before my departure. Dominique replied that it was a little late to visit his plant but that he would obtain as much as he could at the agreed price; he said he would meet me at the usual place.

We departed and rejoined Inspector Pasquier and Vice-Consul Canup. The "usual place", our female collaborator said, was a deserted alley in the Old Quarter, not far from her restaurant, the Manoir. I was to accompany her at the appointed hour into the middle of the alley. Inspector Pasquier and Vice-Consul Canup were to wait at the end, about half a block away. Inspector Pasquier provided me with a pistol and I was to signal the completion of the transaction by firing a shot into the air. Mr. Canup was unarmed and I loaned him the small but efficient black-jack I usually carried. At about eleven o'clock in the evening, Zizi and I approached the rendezvous. It was pitch black and we could see nothing. As we approached the appointed spot, we heard the voice of Dominique who was standing against the wall and invisible until we were within a few feet. I inquired whether he had the drugs and he said he did; he asked whether I had the money and I said "yes". He thereupon opened his shirt and removed a large cloth band with pouches filled with heroin.

At that moment I announced that I was an American policeman working with the Sûreté and fired one shot into the air as a signal. I then grabbed Dominique to prevent his already attempted escape and he struggled vigorously but with little success in view of my obvious physical superiority in years and weight. Suddenly a new factor appeared; Dominique, not trusting his new customer entirely had brought a bodyguard and I was suddenly beset by another man whose strength met the necessary qualifications for his post. During the brief period in which I was alone with this man (the French woman had disappeared) it was clear that I would likely lose both my prisoners and the heroin evidence.

Inspector Pasquier and Mr. Canup were on the job, however, and Pasquier immediately took charge of the unknown bodyguard and secured him by a strangling armlock around the neck. This prisoner, later identified as a young Corsican seaman, continued to struggle violently, whereas I was able quickly to subdue the now unassisted Dominique. Vice-Consul Canup, in his effort to aid Inspector Pasquier in his struggle, swung at the prisoner with the black-jack. Instead of reaching its mark (presumably the Corsican's head) the weapon landed on Pasquier's wrist, breaking it. By this time, the noise of the shot and the general commotion had attracted the uniformed gendarmes who arrived in force, quickly ending all resistance.

After the speedy trial and convictions of the persons involved, I went to Rome. After checking in with the Embassy, I was accredited to the Italian police and I was directed to collaborate with a high police official, Dr. Giuseppe Dosi. He was also the Italian representative on the ICPC, better known as the "Interpol".[1] I again resumed my role as a potential buyer of illicit drugs and quickly secured a contact via a hostess in a basement cabaret, alleged to be owned by the notorious American deportee Lucky Luciano. The proprietor of the Café Liguri arranged for me to meet one of his confederates at my hotel the following morning. When this man arrived, and he seemed vaguely familiar, it appeared from his demeanour that he also had a feeling he had met me before.

He was another of that large colony of deportees from the United States, residing in Rome, most of whom had been deported from the United States for narcotics law violations. As we sparred with each other over a period of several days and many drinks, he finally confessed that he had been reluctant to do business with me because he thought he had recognized me as an American law enforcement official. To my surprise he went on to relate that he thought he knew me, not as a narcotics agent, but as an Assistant United States Attorney who had prosecuted him in New York. It was true that this prosecuting attorney had a very strong resemblance to me and both of us have frequently been asked if we were brothers, which we are not.

This point apparently having been cleared up in the mind of my friend, one Nick di Marzo, he then related that the drug traffic was controlled by the Luciano organization, of which he was a minor member; that the source of supply was at Naples and that he would have to go there to make the necessary arrangements for the quantity of drugs I desired. Negotiations continued over a period of a week and no drugs were forthcoming.

One morning I received a visit at my hotel from the proprietor of the cabaret, Ralph Liguri, also a deportee. Liguri addressed me by my correct name and said he knew all about me. To this day I do not know where he obtained this information. He then defended the reputation of himself and Luciano, saying they were both legitimate business men having nothing whatsoever to do with the narcotics traffic (Liguri had been sentenced with Luciano in the United States for compulsory prostitution and had been deported coincidentally with him). Liguri also displayed an automatic pistol, together with a permit from the Italian police, and warned it would be dangerous for anyone to "frame" him or his associates. I promptly communicated the information concerning Liguri's pistol permit to the Italian authorities, who, with equal promptness, cancelled this permit.

It appeared that since I was now well known to the Italian underworld my chance of success here was negligible. However, within a few days, I became acquainted with an entirely different group of traffickers operating between Rome and Trieste. After a week of negotiations under the close surveillance of the police, I arranged for the delivery of a large quantity of narcotic drugs in an outdoor hillside café some distance from Rome. The delivery was made by four of the conspirators and upon receiving my signal the Italian police closed in and made the arrest without incident. It was not until several weeks later that I learnt one of the criminals caught in the net was Marcello Heinzinger, alias Enzi, who had been listed as an international trafficker in the published U.S. Government black list since December 1934. He had received his first sentence for trafficking in Trieste in 1910. Again, as in the case of Dominique,' the netting in of the "big fish" was a lucky coincidence.

As United States narcotics agent, I have made investigations similar to those described in Iran, Irak, India, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Mexico. Not all of the journeys resulted in such dramatic episodes as those I have described, but, in each, considerable, information of value was obtained, not only for the benefit of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics, but also for the benefit of the United Nations and the various governments involved.

In every instance, I have found friendly help and whole-hearted co-operation from the authorities of the country in which I was working. I am certain that if other countries found it expedient to send their police agents here, under similar circumstances, we would receive them with equal friendliness.

Because of the peculiar international nature of narcotics law enforcement, complete international co-operation is required, not only on a high policy-making level, but also on a police working level. Since my mission in 1948, numerous other American narcotics agents have travelled throughout the world on similar assignments and have successfully exposed international drug traffickers in their countries of origin. All of us engaged in this work have found the police authorities very pleased to accept our assistance and co-operation in providing detection facilities not always available to them.


International Criminal Police Commission. See Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. III, No. 3.