Federal agents last month intercepted a package mailed to Hawaii from Southern California containing a toaster oven. Hidden inside the four-slice toaster, there appeared to be 6 pounds of crystal meth.
Leland Akau Sr. and Allen Gorion, who allegedly received the package in Kapolei, pleaded not guilty Friday to meth distribution and conspiracy charges. Lab analysis results to determine the purity of the methamphetamine are pending, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Roberts said.
It’s one of the latest cases involving drug packages mailed to Hawaii.
Crystal meth is known as the drug of choice in Hawaii, where it gained a stronghold across the islands long before becoming popular on the mainland. "It’s the No. 1 dangerous drug here in Hawaii," Gary Yabuta, director of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program in Hawaii.
In an island state where crowded living makes meth labs scarce, there are limited ways to get the drug. So, traffickers get creative: hiding them in stuffed animals or wrapping them up like Christmas presents before sending them in the mail.
In 2013, 6 pounds of meth were shipped to Hawaii from San Bernardino, California, stuffed into three mannequin heads, according to court documents. The mannequin heads were in boxes wrapped in pink and gold paper. The parcel also contained shirts, shorts, slippers and towels.
In a separate case last year, 4 pounds of the drug was shipped to Hawaii from Ontario, California, stuffed inside two mannequin heads.
"If it fits, it ships," said Robin Dinlocker, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Honolulu district.
Mailing or shipping drugs to Hawaii became more common with increased airport security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when it became more difficult to smuggle drugs through air travel, authorities said.
During the 2014 fiscal year, the Honolulu office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which also covers Guam and the Marianas, participated in more than 50 arrests of people who were using the mail to transport drugs. The majority of the cases involved methamphetamine, said Postal Inspector Brian Shaughnessy. For 2012 and 2013, there were about 40 each year, also mostly meth.
The figures don’t include other package delivery services such as FedEx and UPS.
Crystal meth first arrived in Hawaii from Korea and the Philippines around 1979, said Dr. William Haning, professor of psychiatry at the University of Hawaii’s medical school.
Geography wasn’t the only reason the drug took root here, Haning said. It fit in well with Hawaii’s largely service economy, where many residents work multiple, low-wage jobs to survive a high-cost of living. "After a while, with everybody working so many hours … this becomes the perfect performance drug for getting by," he said.
These days, crystal meth isn’t coming from Asia, but from Mexico, Dinlocker said.
The appetite for the drug, along with the difficulty in getting it here, is reflected in its street value: A pound of meth goes for $20,000 in Honolulu — double what it goes for on the mainland.
The meth hidden in the toaster was in vacuum-sealed plastic bags, according to the criminal complaint filed in the case. The Black & Decker oven box was then placed into a cardboard box and shipped to a residential address in Kapolei from North Hollywood, California.
The parcels of meth are sent here so frequently, "I know we’re not catching them all," Dinlocker said.