Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

What Exactly IS the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force?

Also known simply as the “OCDETF,” the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force plays an important role in numerous criminal cases across Massachusetts. However, many people may not understand this role, and some might not even be aware that this organization exists. Those who face investigations by this organization may face high-pressure, high-stakes criminal charges compared to others who commit similar but “lower-profile” crimes.  

The OCDETF Targets High-Profile Drug Offenders

The OCDETF offers to take high-profile cases off the hands of local or state police, and they tend to target cases that are easy to win. In exchange for “robbing them of their glory,” the OCDETF promises these local authorities to bring harsher penalties than the defendant would have otherwise received in state courts. The OCDETF can do this because it receives funding directly from the Department of Justice, and it can pursue charges through federal courts instead. It also has close ties to various federal agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Marshals Services.

In many ways, the OCDETF exists to make headlines. Because they can pick and choose cases across numerous states, they can easily select the most “winnable” cases. As a result, they can boast of accomplishments that would not normally be possible if they had no choice of which cases to accept. These include the seizure of billions in cash and tens of thousands of high-profile drug convictions.  

How Can the OCDETF Affect Criminal Cases in Massachusetts?

The OCDETF has the authority to direct investigative resources based on directions from prosecuting authorities in local Massachusetts courts. As a result, drug defendants in Massachusetts suddenly find themselves facing much higher levels of pressure whenever the OCDETF gets involved. The full scrutiny of numerous federal agencies may be brought to bear against relatively low-level dealers. With the possibility of facing excessive federal prison sentences, these defendants often agree to cooperate and provide evidence against the OCDETF’s real targets – the big-time traffickers who are much higher up on the ladder of drug crime networks. In exchange for this cooperation, the small-time dealers often receive reduced sentences. 

Two Recent Cases Involving the OCDETF

On January 23, 2024, the Justice Department reported that a Boston man had pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy, trafficking charges, and possession of a firearm as a felon. His offense revolved around an assault in 2019. After his arrest by local police, 900 grams of cocaine, 500 grams of marijuana, a loaded handgun, and about $15,500 in cash were recovered in his possession. While one might argue that this is evidence of trafficking, this is clearly not a “high-level” dealer; the OCDETF’s involvement indicates that his guilty plea may have been due to his cooperation – possibly leading authorities to a higher-level trafficker. 

On January 19, it was reported that another Boston defendant had been sentenced to just over five years in prison for possession of two kilos of fentanyl. He was discovered in 2022 with a cereal box filled with fentanyl. This five-year sentence is quite low, considering that possessing even 10 grams of fentanyl can lead to 20 years in prison. This could be explained by the OCDETF’s involvement, suggesting that the defendant cooperated in exchange for a reduced sentence.