orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

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March 22, 2013

Feds raid 17 Calif. businesses for nitrous oxide

(Continued)

LOS ANGELES —

The operations are part of a new social media team set up by the Sheriff's Department over the last six months to monitor and identify such illegal activities around the clock. The team has found many public posts that advertise alcohol and illegal drugs such as nitrous oxide and that target teens.

"They're doing the social media equivalent of standing outside the front doors of a high school at 3 o'clock as school lets out with a megaphone announcing that there'll be drugs, noz and alcohol for children, and then handing out fliers to all the kids that are interested," Parker said.

These parties can be lucrative for those provisioning them. Sheriff's deputies have been tracking one distributor who is making more than $60,000 a month in the bulk sale of nitrous oxide, said Sgt. Glenn Walsh, who works in the Sheriff's Department's narcotics bureau.

Hartsell said the drugs have also spurred armed robberies as gangs steal tanks from each other in an effort to make easy money with light legal ramifications.

Sheriff's officials believe they have prevented a least 30 violent and sexual assaults in the last six months because of their efforts to shut down illegal nitrous oxide-related parties before they happen.

One party was forced to change locations three times in one night, before finally moving outside of the sheriff's jurisdiction, Parker said. But the department also notifies neighboring departments of the illegal parties when it spots them, Parker said.

Some of the hotspots are unincorporated Los Angeles County and the San Gabriel Valley, where parties are held primarily in homes and warehouses, Parker said.

Part of the problem for law enforcement officers going after the illegal use of nitrous oxide is that its distribution or use as a recreational drug is only a misdemeanor, officials said.

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