Burrito Case Steps Up Prison Drug War
The indictment of one sheriff's deputy is part of a committed law enforcement response to a major problem.
The case of Henry Marin—an LA County sheriff’s deputy who's just been indicted by a grand jury on conspiracy and drug charges for trying to smuggle a burrito stuffed with 24 grams of black tar heroin into a county lockup for inmate Robert Alvarez—may seem unusual. But Marin's just the latest in a string of sheriff’s employees accused of smuggling narcotics to fuel a highly profitable prison drug industry. Marin admitted intending to give the burrito to Alvarez, but said he didn’t know there were drugs inside. He said he'd passed food to Alvarez for a year in exchange for extra sandwiches. “His story that he would risk his job for the promise of a sandwich was ridiculous,” testified former sergeant Victor Lewandowski. Monitored phone calls show that jail leaders—otherwise known as shot callers for the Mexican Mafia—plot in coded language to use sheriff’s guards to get past tight jail security. Heroin and other drugs can be sold for up to 10 times their street value to inmates desperate for a quick fix. But the elaborate sting operation that caught Marin—involving detectives in disguise and a cunning video pen (which didn't work)—indicate law enforcement's serious resolve to tackle the problem.