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Life of a Cell: Managerial Practice and Strategy in Colombian Cocaine Distribution in the United States

NCJ Number
Date Published
324 pages
This study used a variety of sources of information on Colombian cocaine distribution in the United States to determine the structure and operations of "cells" for domestic distribution.
The study used a sample of five former cell managers and cell section leaders referred by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Interviews with the primary sample followed a series of interviews with detectives and special agents assigned to urban DEA task forces in New York and Miami. "Cells" were found to be the distribution arm for a major trafficking organization based in Colombia. The cells were role-specialized and staffed largely by Colombian illegal aliens bound by strict codes of behavior imposed by the threat of law enforcement. Cell managers were posted to the Untied States to oversee the flow of thousands of kilos through the larger urban distribution markets. Cells use techniques common to legitimate commodity markets, as they offer revolving credit to buyers, quantity discounts, and a fair kilo price that represents the local market risks to transport, warehouse, and distribute an illicit product. Cells are the last link in the Colombian control over multi-thousand kilo quantity shipments of cocaine destined for American wholesale and retail markets. Cells operate with short chains of command that are noncompetitive and nonviolent in the local marketplace. Kilo prices are fairly uniform across organizations until they reach the terminal wholesale distribution market, where local negotiations for price differentials of 10-20 percent are based on customer preferences and quantity discounts. Cells reduce law enforcement pressures by implementing routine changes to their telecommunications infrastructure. The primary respondents in this study generally agreed that drug enforcement pressures in Colombia had more of an impact on kilo price in the United States than U.S. law enforcement, due largely to the lack of coordinated enforcement efforts. 5 figures, a 120-item bibliography, and appended interview protocol

Date Published: January 1, 1998