Police: Major bust of dealers, fraudsters, illegal shrimp sellers

Police: Major bust of dealers, fraudsters, illegal shrimp sellers
Minh Tam Market has been implicated in a massive Seattle Police Department operation centering on drug dealing and food-stamp fraud in the International District. (Courtesy of Seattle Police Department)

SEATTLE -- A three-month effort on the part of the Seattle Police Department to clean up the area around 12th Avenue and South Jackson Street in the International District netted drugs, cash and the arrest of 25 people, including one woman in connection with the midnight sale of $1,000 of ill-gotten frozen shrimp.

According to police, Operation Rock-N-Hock started in January to address drug dealing near the major intersection. Informants reportedly told police the situation was so bad you couldn't walk down the street without being offered drugs or EBT food-stamp cards.

“My officers were seeing car prowls and drug deals out there and growing unrest in the community,” East Precinct Capt. Pierre Davis said in a press release. “Once officers started putting these cases together, one arrest led to another.”

According to police, undercover officers started buying drugs from dealers in the area, identifying 26 suspects -- believed to be responsible for the bulk of the dealers in the area -- and building cases against them.

This investigation led to a tent in the woods under I-5 that was reportedly used to traffic crack to the neighborhood and was the site of at least one shooting. Police raided the tent Thursday morning.

Officers also raided Thanh Tam Restaurant on Thursday after learning a number of dealers frequented the Vietnamese restaurant. According to police, an informant said he purchased drugs from the restaurant's owner on more than 100 occasions.

According to police, the search warrant served this week at Thanh Tam netted $17,000 in cash and 16 grams of cocaine.

At the same time the Major Crimes Task Force was investigating the drug trade around 12th and Jackson, it was also looking into One-Stop Wireless, which had been raided in 2009 for selling stolen cellphones and computers. The business was apparently back at it.

“Before One-Stop opened up their doors at 10 o’clock every morning, there would be a line of people looking to sell iPhones and iPads they had stolen the night before,” Det. Todd Jakobsen said in a press release.

A search warrant served on One-Stop Wireless back in January resulted in the seizure of more than 800 computers, iPods and cellphones that were suspected to have been stolen and more than $226,000 in cash, according to police.

While the Major Crimes Task Force was at it, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked for its help investigating food-stamp fraud in the neighborhood.

According to police, detectives recovered more than $424,000 in cash while serving a search warrant at Minh Tam Market, where a clerk was reportedly buying EBT cards from people off the street for 50 cents on the dollar or crack.

Detectives also launched an investigation into a woman in the area suspected of buying EBT cards. According to police, she took undercover officers to Lam's Seafood Market and Viet Wah, where she used EBT cards to buy a ton of food for resale.

Employees at those grocery stores helped the woman skirt EBT regulations by allowing her to use multiple cards at once and by breaking up large purchases to avoid attracting suspicion, according to police.

At one point, officers reportedly watched as the woman sold $1,000 of frozen shrimp purchased through EBT fraud at midnight in an alley. When a search warrant was served at the woman's home, netting $3,000 in cash, she had 20 50-pound bags of rice in her van, according to police.

While the Seattle Police Department has arrested 25 people as part of Operation Rock-N-Hock so far, it hopes to arrest even more in an effort to improve the International District.

“We’re going to go through 12th and Jackson and arrest all those dealers, get them off the street. Starting tomorrow, we are then sending in CleanScapes to clean up graffiti and debris," Jakobsen said in the press release. "We’re going to take that area back for the community.”

Map of Operation Rock-N-Hock. (Courtesy of Seattle Police Department)