When a tipster told me Friday that some dude had been busted trying to mail himself “a whole lot of dope” at a popular local steakhouse, I figured he was probably mistaken. 

People send me hot tips all the time that don’t turn out to be quite the high drama initially described. There will be a kernel of truth in their tips, sure, but when you peel away all the speculation and secondhand hyperbole, the story kind of withers down to the level of mundane. 

Then I got a look at the night’s booking sheets and, will you look at that? Some local fellow has been slapped with a drug importation charge — and they don’t hand those out to small-time folk dealing joints at the bowling alley. 

Somebody really tried to have $3 million worth of fentanyl mailed to himself and if nothing else, you have to appreciate the cojones it takes to do something like that. Me, I get stressed out waiting for the mailman when all I have on order are some drum parts.  

I don’t pretend to know how this plan was supposed to go. Maybe it was a brilliant scheme that just got vexed by a tardy postman, a misread address or some second player that failed to show. That’s tough luck right there, Tony Montana. In this case, it will probably cost the would-be kingpin a decade or so in federal prison. 

Of course, it may also mean that a few dozen people don’t overdose on a bad batch of bad dope this week, too, which is why you have to consider this a win. Fentanyl and its Frankenstein cousins are like powdered death, dropping our neighbors at a rate that is almost breathtaking. With 14 kilos — 30 pounds — of the stuff sitting in a police evidence locker instead of going into the noses and veins of an addicted population, the game of overdose roulette might not be as heavily played in the near future as it would otherwise. 


Or maybe that’s just pie-in-the-sky talk. After all, this is just one shipment that happened to go wrong. How many other audacious dealers are opening crates of the stuff in their basements after their own tensely awaited visit from the mailman? How many middlemen are driving along the highway as we speak — careful to set the cruise control at 68 mph if they have any brains at all — with bags of the lethal powder jammed into the space where the spare tire used to reside? 

The junk comes into our community in an inventive variety of ways. It comes by car, by boat, by airplane. It comes secreted within the human body (try not to think too much about how it gets there) and it comes in a hundred different ways that people like you and I wouldn’t think of — I was once at the scene of a bust where a young mother was caught smuggling dope stuffed into her baby’s diaper. 

As long as there’s the potential for big money, somebody somewhere is willing to take the risk, and sheer numbers mean the odds are in their favor. 

Every now and then, we get treated to a story about the bonehead criminal who gets busted with a whack of dope specifically because he or she was doing something phenomenally stupid. How many times have we heard about a drug seizure that began when police clocked some fool driving 95 mph down the turnpike in the middle of the night? How often do packets of dope come flying out when inmates at the jail are invited to squat and cough?

Last summer, somebody wrote to tell me that two people were arrested at McDonald’s after dropping the drug Suboxone into a Happy Meal, which was then handed on to a customer. 

I didn’t believe that one, either, when I first heard it. Nobody, I reasoned, makes a mistake as colossally inept as that. Then I made a call to the cop shop, took a gander at the arrest sheets and whoo, boy! It happened. Somebody really got a side order of narcotic with their burgers and fries.


I don’t think I’d make a very good drug smuggler — I talk to #@!!#$ much, for one thing — but I know this: If I was hauling a kilo of coke back from Lawrence, Massachusetts, I’d make the drive at the busiest time of day. I’d make sure my blinkers worked, the inspection sticker was valid, and the seat belt was across my body. 

I’d drive just a wee bit over the limit — drive at exactly 65 and you look like a guy whose driving with a trunk full of drugs and possibly a dead hitchhiker — and if I had my way, I’d make this trip in a nice, innocuous minivan, or whatever the soccer moms are driving these days. 

Don’t forget your license plate lights, too, Pablo Escobar. Bored cops will pull you over even for something as trifling as that and the next thing you know, you’re spread eagle on the hood of your car because you failed to replace a bulb that costs $3.

The drug bust at Mac’s Grill on Friday had it all, as news stories go. It happened in a very public place, it involved an incredibly large quantity of the most villainous drugs out there and it went down in a way that few of us have seen before.  

Plus the little details that color a story just so. Like the notion that the fine employees of the steakhouse thought they were unboxing just some pretty mugs for their restaurant. Like the fact that the accused showed up to the eatery himself, asking for his package even as the police circled. Like all the lousy jokes the waitstaff at the restaurant are going to have to listen to over the next few weeks.

Drug running is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year operation. This very moment, somebody somewhere is sweating his way through a situation that would completely unnerve most of us. Maybe he’s pulled over to the side of the highway, hoping the nice policeman doesn’t get curious about the Pringles can in the back seat. Perhaps he’s passing through airport security, the entirety of his future completely depending on whether or not the grim-faced TSA agent waves him through or steers him toward the full-body scanners.


I suppose when you get involved all the way in a life of drug peddling, either intentionally or through unhappy circumstances, you take risks every day of your life. The bigger the potential payout, the more enormous the risks. You assess the odds, slap together the best plan you can devise and try to minimize your sweating as you go for that long drive, that short flight or that quick walk to the steakhouse to pick up your mail.

You win some, you lose some and sometimes you just have to go away and wear an orange suit for a few years. And I imagine those are long years, as you sit in your cell and think over and over about what a crappy plan it was, now that you have time to think about it. Seriously, did you really believe that was going to work?

I guess they don’t call it “dope” for nothing.

When he’s not thinking of ways to outsmart wannabe criminal masterminds, Mark LaFlamme writes about them and other crime for the Sun Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]

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