In the past week, reports crossed our desks from two Volusia County law enforcement agencies showing very different estimates. The sheriff"s department itself gave two values.
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The Port Orange Police Department seized 2 kilos of cocaine Thursday after stopping two Jacksonville men on Interstate 95. That agency valued each kilo at $75,000.
The sheriff"s department seized 4 kilos of cocaine Monday from a car driven by a couple from Jacksonville. A sheriff"s press release valued each kilo at $22,000, but Sheriff Bob Vogel later that day said each kilo was worth $300,000.
Vogel said his higher figure reflects the average retail price for 90 percent-pure cocaine diluted the maximum number of times, then sold in the Northeast. Around Volusia County, he said, the street sale value of a kilo goes for $160,000 to $240,000.
According to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in Miami, 90-percent pure cocaine is rare. Agent John Fernandez said a kilo will fetch no more than $64,000 and as little as $13,000 - depending on who sells it, where it"s sold, and whether it"s broken into small quantities or sold wholesale.
So what"s the big deal? For one thing, news value. In the newsroom, a million-dollar bust is likely to get screaming headlines, but a much smaller one isn"t. A larger seizure is more likely to make the front page and nightly news.
The press and the public like solid figures. However, in the drug world, they aren"t easy to track down.
News value isn"t the only reason for the discrepancy over street value.
Obviously, underworld prices aren"t fixed. Like their law-abiding counterparts, merchants in the drug world give discounts to customers who buy in bulk, Fernandez said. A drug buyer pays less for a kilo if he buys 10, rather than 2 kilos.
Also, dealers who have been in business longer have lower overhead than newcomers and can undercut them, he says. And prices vary among regions. Cocaine is much cheaper in areas where it is directly shipped or flown. It costs less in Miami than in Daytona Beach, and much less here than in the Northeast.
A kilo of cocaine can be sold wholesale - for $13,000 to $15,000 - or broken into smaller quantities - 32 ounces, 1,000 grams of powder, or 3,575 "rocks" of crack, Fernandez said.
But however you cut it and wherever you sell it, a kilo won"t bring in more than $64,000, Fernandez said.
Vogel disagrees. He said the 1,000 grams in a kilo can be "stepped on" - or diluted - three times, making 4,000 grams. Each time the cocaine is diluted, its purity is reduced and bulk is added. (Most any material can be used for this purpose, including lactose and sugar.) Each gram sells for $40-$100, Vogel said. That would bring between $160,000 and $400,000. The sheriff uses $300,000 when figuring the street value.
Fernandez doesn"t dispute the selling price of a gram, but said 1,000 grams of cocaine, after being cut three times, cannot result in 4,000 grams because bulk is lost in the process. If its quality were diluted to that extent, he said, the drug would have little or no effect and customers would not be pleased.
Conflicting information about the value of drugs can be confusing, but, unfortunately, solid figures don"t exist in the drug world.
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The best thing readers can do is keep in mind, when reading about cocaine seizures, that many factors may be involved: quantity and quality of the drug, locale, and politics.