The next drug epidemic coming our way is crystal meth says U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling. We discussed that, the trouble with supervised injection sites, Chinese espionage and more in the final part of a multipart series with the region’s top prosecutor.
Adriana Cohen: A Harvard researcher was recently arrested for among other things failing to disclose financial ties to China. What’s going on?
AndrewLelling: The Justice Department and the FBI have been warning about Chinese espionage, Chinese efforts to steal U.S. technology for at least 15 years. … So about a year ago Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions set up this group of five U.S. attorneys, I’m one of them. … What he wanted was stepped-up enforcement in this area, a higher profile for the cases, more outreach to private companies and universities about the risks here. I think we’ve achieved that. People now are more aware that there’s a real threat from Chinese nationals whether they are intelligence officers or just private citizens coming to the U.S. collecting U.S. technology or stealing U.S. trade secrets and taking it back to China. Because that movement of technological know-how from the U.S. to China is helping fuel China’s rise to a rival superpower. And that’s the point, that’s why the Chinese are doing it.
AC: Should guidelines be implemented here for researchers and professors?
AL: Yes. On the enforcement side, it’s all about disclosure. Don’t lie when asked if you have ties to a foreign government when you’re doing research.
AC: How big of a threat is student visa fraud?
AL: We charged a case recently where a young woman was studying at Boston University and it turns out she was a lieutenant in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and omitted that intentionally from her visa application. So that does happen and we do several of those cases a year. …The other issue is that you have a lot of Chinese nationals that come to the U.S. who are just private citizens. … They are students at universities here or working in high tech here and then nonetheless out of loyalty to China or they’re being controlled or threatened by the Chinese government they steal technology from here to give back to China.
AC: Liberal politicians support drug injection sites. You’re opposed to this. Why?
AL: They violate federal law. … Supporters of these sites insist it brings addiction rates down and save lives but if you actually go look at the studies, the picture is much more mixed. Meanwhile what they bring to the communities they are in is increased drug activity both consumption and in drug trafficking because if that’s where the customers are that’s where they’re going to deal drugs. And we’ve seen an uptick in crime around injection sites so the picture isn’t quite as rosy. … What injection sites do is normalize that behavior. They implicitly say it’s OK if you want to shoot up heroin you can come here and you can do that. … We shouldn’t be normalizing it. It’s illegal and it kills people. So while addicts need help, supervised injection sites are not the answer. … After the opioid epidemic we’re going to have a crystal meth epidemic. Crystal meth is pouring out of Mexico dirt cheap, super pure and in the Midwest and the West they already have that problem and that is coming our way.
AC: It’s become an issue that host communities are demanding a lot from marijuana dispensaries, including that they must donate large sums of money to the community. Do you agree with this?
AL: I agree that it’s a situation that’s rife for corruption as we said in the context of announcing charges against Mayor (Jasiel) Correia in Fall River. So that creates a problem. … What’s troubling is this quasi-extortion of these dispensaries which are now licensed which can’t open up in a given town without really giving a pound of flesh to the local municipality. Now that can be perfectly legal … but it tempts local officials into corrupt practices by essentially seeking a payoff in exchange for permission to operate in that town and that’s what troubles us. Every municipality in Massachusetts where a dispensary wants to open could have this dynamic. So we’ve begun to look into it.