'Takedown,' A Conversation with Jeff Buck


Jeff Buck is again going undercover. No photo of him is available

Jeff Buck spent more than twenty years working as an undercover drug officer and eventually became the police chief of the small town of Reminderville, Ohio.

Takedown tells a true story, one that could be mistaken for fiction. While working as police chief of Reminderville, Ohio, Jeff Buck realized a domestic assault case had links to the murder of a drug runner in upstate New York. That, in turn, had connections to a syndicate smuggling billions of dollars of drugs across the U.S.-Canadian border. As Buck plunged back into his old world, he uncovered a complex drug smuggling chain linking the Hells Angels to the Russian Mob, and to Native American tribal land straddling the U.S.--Canadian border.

In Takedown, you mention your wife was less concerned about your working narcotics than she was about your being a police chief. How come?
My wife always said I was really good at undercover work, and if something bad was going to happen, I would be able to control the situation. But, as a police chief answering calls with my officer, I never knew what I would come upon. Virtually anything could happen on those calls, particularly when they were about a domestic violence situation.

How did a domestic violence case in Ohio lead you to the biggest drug gang in the U.S.?
The domestic violence situation in my town involved a dispute between two Russians, Kevin Sorin and his girlfriend, Ashley Schmid. It turned out Kevin was also a "subject of interest" to the police in the neighboring community of Beachwood, where he was under surveillance for his involvement with Russian organized crime in this Cleveland suburb.

I met with the Beachwood police, and together we launched a large scale drug investigation.

We identified Kevin Sorin as the courier, and began a rolling surveillance operation which entailed tracking the couple who drove each week to New York State. They always rented cars with New York plates in order to be inconspicuous, but since the cars were equipped with On Star, with the help of the car rental company, we were able to track the vehicles, which led us to uncovering the enormous drug trade taking place at the U.S.-Canadian border.

Takedown notes important differences between the northern drug trade out of Canada and the southern trade run out of Mexico. What are they?
The southern border has twenty-two thousand border agents responsible for two-thousand miles of border. The northern border has two thousand agents responsible for fifty-five hundred miles of border. The difference in manpower is enormous. When we worked with the northern taskforce and talked with agents from federal, state and local agencies, they indicated the drug trafficking on the northern border is just as bad as that on the Mexican border. The same amount of drugs comes in and there's also human trafficking crossing over from the north. One of the 9/ll hijackers used the border at the Akwesasne reservation, which is also involved in the drug trade. There's an area on the reservation that looks like a typical street in any town except one side of the street is in Canada, and the other side is in the U.S.

The National Drug Intelligence Center estimated in 2009, Canadian-based traffickers and organized crime drug smugglers were ferrying between thirty-three and fifty-six billion dollars a year over those northern borders.

Talk about the alliance formed by the Hells Angels and criminal elements of the Akwesasne reservation, as well as the role the ice bridge played.
The Hell's Angels use some of the Indians on the reservation as their importers and exporters. They get their product into the U.S. and the money goes back to them in Canada. The ice bridge is simply a part of the St. Lawrence River that's frozen-over in winter. It's a link between Canada and the U.S. that you can walk or drive across without any interference.

Tell us about "heat runs" and other measures you took to protect your family.
Simply put, you never want to take a bad guy home with you. When I left the office or an operation, and was on the way home--especially late at night--I would do a heat run. I would pull into the parking lot of a Wal-Mart and wait to see if anyone was following me. I would just sit there and see if anyone would drive past me. I always wanted to make sure no one was following me because we followed bad guys all the time.

In Takedown, you mention seventy-five percent of the time while you were working undercover, you didn't carry a gun. How come?
The criminal organizations involved in the drug trade were very professional. They couldn't move millions of dollars of product by being violent, leg-breaking gangbangers. They were well-prepared, and quite educated about law enforcement's techniques. It wasn't the way it's depicted on TV. The first thing that could tip someone off that I was an undercover agent was my carrying a gun. And, it could cause a problem in a relationship I was trying to build undercover with organized crime.

How did you get the nickname 'Dope Ghost'?
One of my friends, and a partner back in the 80s, began calling me that because I was able to move around at night and show up without anyone knowing I was there. The name just stuck.

What are your thoughts about the "War on Drugs"?
When the federal government had a shortfall on December 15th, it found the money needed to keep the government operating in the Asset Forfeiture Fund, the repository for monies taken from drug organizations. The government took a total of about 1.2 billion dollars from that fund to help balance the budget. That was money the various task forces depended upon to take drugs off the streets. I believe now, because of reduced funding, we're going to see a huge spike in drug trafficking and use, and there will be an upsurge in the heroin epidemic throughout the nation.

What thoughts do you have when people say the War on Drugs has been unsuccessful and emphasis should be on treatment?
I believe emphasis should be on treatment. First-time drug offenders have to be treated differently from hard-core users. But we also need to tackle the problem from another angle.

Most people have no idea how many drugs law enforcement agencies keep off the streets every day. When we impede drug traffickers' organizations, we limit the amount of product available for sale. The War on Drugs has to be fought on two fronts: limiting supply and offering treatment.

Congratulations on your collaboration with Jon Land in writing Takedown, a chilling true-life account of extensive criminality affecting our nation, and activities on our northern border about which most Americans know very little.

Mark Rubinstein's latest novel is The Lovers' Tango