Chicago to seize cars to curb suburban drug demand

Dave Orrick
Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer
Updated 4/4/2014 5:52 PM
Editor's note: This story originally ran on June 14, 2002 as part of the Daily Herald's "Hidden Scourge: Heroin in the Suburbs" series.

With suburban college students arriving home and high school kids off for the summer party season, the popular West Side of Chicago drug connection may be in jeopardy - as will the cars of those caught buying in the city.

Authorities Thursday said they will begin using a previously underused tool they hope will have a chilling effect on suburbanites driving to the city to buy their drugs.


They're going to seize cars used by drug buyers.

Although authorities might find it hard to keep cars of parents of drug-buying kids for more than 10 days, Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine said the message of "Operation Purge" ought to be clear.

"People in the Chicago neighborhoods are sick of the parade of people driving in with their fancy cars, buying drugs and then retreating to the suburbs," Devine said at a news conference in Chicago to announce the plan. "We are going to rain on this parade."

The parade has been a problem for years.

Last year, the Daily Herald outlined the practice as part of its "Hidden Scourge" series showing how heroin and newer club drugs are killing suburban youths.

"In our experience, a large majority of the narcotics are bought from the city of Chicago," said Detective Sgt. Steven Huffman, who heads the two-officer drug unit of the St. Charles police department. "About 95 percent of the narcotics users we talk to tell us they got their stuff from Chicago."

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One Chicago police operation conducted over the past year showed that 30 percent of drug buyers in a Chicago neighborhood drove in from the suburbs, said Joseph Gandurski, deputy chief of the department's organized crime investigations division.

Officials said the operation wasn't triggered by a noticeable increase in the flow of drugs to the suburbs, but rather was a decision to redirect the traditional attack of drug enforcement from the supply to the demand.

"There's really nothing new other than we're trying to affect behavior," said assistant state's attorney William O'Brien, chief of the office's narcotics bureau. "We hope that for some kids out there, this will be a deterrent."

Anti-drug laws since the 1970s have allowed authorities to seize cars, boats and other property used in drug operations.

Officials with both the DuPage County and the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Groups said trying to seize cars used by buyers has been a longstanding practice.


Under Operation Purge, which goes into effect today, if you're busted for buying drugs in Chicago and you're in a car, you'll be arrested and charged as always, but now the car will be seized and towed.

To get it back, the owner of the vehicle will have to pay at least $660 in fines and towing and pass the muster of a hearing. At the hearing, if it's determined the car was being used to transport drugs to be sold later, that's that; Chicago police will auction off the car and share the proceeds with Devine's office and the state police.

In addition, Secretary of State Jesse White announced Thursday that if a suspect refuses to attend a drug treatment program and is convicted, his or her driver's license will be suspended for at least a year. That penalty also is one that has been on the books for some time but has not always been enforced.

Many familiar with suburban drug trafficking lauded the new plan, but some expressed reservations over how effective it will be.

"What I think is fair is that if the car belongs to the person who is going to buy the drugs, I think it's completely legitimate," said Craig Carnevale of Lisle, whose son, Tom, went to state prison before overcoming a serious drug addiction.

"If they just blanket it across the board, you're going to ruin a lot of families. If I were to lose my car, it would be devastating. When my son was doing his stuff, he occasionally took my car, and I think people who are going through this have enough heartache dealing with an addicted addict," Carnevale said.

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