Hawaii County Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna showed a portion of the weapons and drug paraphernalia seized during Operation Meltdown in Hilo and Puna yesterday. Federal, state and neighbor island officers joined Big Island police in raids on eight drug houses.

8 busts called
a major blow to
Big Isle drug


By Rod Thompson

HILO >> Eighty-one county, state and federal law enforcement agents carried out eight raids on East Hawaii drug houses yesterday, making 21 arrests and seizing well over a pound of various drugs, Big Island Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna announced.

Mahuna called the effort, dubbed Operation Meltdown, a "major blow" to trafficking of cocaine and crystal methamphetamine, known as ice.

"It was a fantastic success," Mahuna said. "It was flawless."

Six raids took place in Puna and two in Hilo, including one in which police approached a drug house on Kilauea Avenue in a National Guard light armored vehicle.

"We felt there was a good chance the people (in the house) would do harm to law enforcement officers," Mahuna said. No shots were fired, and suspects in all of the raids surrendered peacefully, he said.

Police seized 10.5 ounces of methamphetamine in one raid, 13.3 ounces of cocaine in another, plus 34 marijuana plants, 7 ounces of dried marijuana, and various prescription drugs and drug paraphernalia. They also seized three rifles, three handguns, ammunition, $6,083 in cash and a car.

Police must charge or release the 21 suspects, who included one juvenile, within 48 hours. The suspects will be screened to see who may be subject to federal prosecution, which has harsher penalties than state prosecution, Mahuna said.

The raids, in preparation for six months, were done in response to citizen complaints about drug houses, Mahuna said.

"You have my word: We are not going to tolerate this stuff anymore," he said.

Mahuna conceded that the public felt their complaints had little or no action in the past. Police had to "put away a lot of preconceived notions that they were effectively doing something," he said.

He credited a methamphetamine summit in August, attended by several hundred law enforcement agents and others, with making various agencies aware that they could do more.

He also credited Mayor Harry Kim with declaring a war against ice. Kim said last night that he hopes the raids turn into "something really solid that will make an impact on this ice."

As a result of networking among law enforcement agents at the methamphetamine summit, greater cooperation emerged, Mahuna said.

Asked about Operation Island Pipeline, made public in December 2001, which resulted in 58 arrests for heroin trafficking, Vice Section acting Lt. Marshall Kanehailua said there were differences compared with Operation Meltdown.

Pipeline was led by federal agents, especially U.S. Customs, and involved locations outside of Hawaii County, including Oahu and California, Kanehailua said.

Meltdown was led by Hawaii County Police, who supplied 69 of the 81 officers involved, he said.

The name Meltdown indicates that yesterday's raids attacked the drug iceberg with hope that the iceberg will continue to melt, Kanehailua said.

Mahuna conceded the amounts of drugs seized, although large, were a "just a small, small quantity of what's out there." But he said the raids made enough of a dent that drug users will not be comfortable about their supplies.

And he took a swipe at critics who say police spend too much time eradicating marijuana.

"Maybe this will give citizens the idea we don't spend all our time harvesting marijuana, because we don't," he said.

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