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April 24, 2018Syracuse, NYUnited StatesOperational

Relationship building key to HSI Syracuse success

The following story is the latest in a series of features highlighting HSI’s smaller field offices.

Jeremiah “Jake” Healey knows upstate New York well, having grown up a young hockey player in Camillus, a town approximately 15 miles west of Syracuse.

Bad weather was the norm, especially the approximately 130 inches of snow the area gets every year. In that part of the country, however, things keep going despite the snow.

A career in law enforcement ultimately led Healey to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) where he spent time at ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Nogales field office and ICE headquarters.

In 2017, Healey returned to his home area as Resident Agent in Charge (RAC) for HSI Syracuse.

“The northeast is home to me. Although I’m still early in my career and willing to move around, this was definitely a place I wanted to try and make a difference,” Healey said. “Not that working anywhere else is less special, but here, the investigations hit closer to home.”

Healey oversees an HSI Syracuse area of responsibility (AOR) that covers 12 counties from the Canadian border down to the Pennsylvania state line.  The AOR consists of an office in Syracuse and an office in Alexandria Bay, New York, near the port of entry.

According to Healey, when he was appointed RAC, he walked into a “gold mine “where his team has built solid relationships over the years. It has made his transition easy thus far. Having such a small office and limited manpower to cover more than 12,000 square miles, HSI Syracuse relies heavily on those relationships with state and local law enforcement partners. A lot of cases overlap with nearby HSI Massena. The two offices often work the same sources and informants and cover surveillance for each other. 

“To do a major case, you often have 2-3 agencies working one case. That’s hard to do when you have limited resources,” Healey said. “The challenge is to be able to properly work long term international criminal investigations with only a few investigators. The main advantage is that we work extremely well with other federal agencies because we rely heavily on each other. Anytime we do a warrant, we are working together with state and federal partners.”

HSI Syracuse primarily investigates contraband smuggling, child exploitation and counter proliferation cases. Because of the nexus to the border, the narcotics coming to and from Canada present a unique challenge for HSI Syracuse special agents. High-grade marijuana is often headed southbound, while cocaine is being funneled to the north.

The organized crime units in Montreal, including biker gangs, are buying cocaine from Mexican cartels and it’s all smuggled up through Syracuse’s AOR, specifically the Indian reservations over the St. Lawrence River into Canada. As Healey had to be reminded, those investigations don’t stop when the harsh winter weather hits.

“Mexican cartels would prefer to sell their products in Canada for an additional $5,000-$8,000 per kilo than in the United States. It’s a pretty significant smuggling route,” Healey said. “There are times during investigations when we get two feet of snow and you still have to get to work and get things done. There are parts of the St. Lawrence River where you can just get on a snowmobile and cross. Even during the summer months with boating, there are a lot of ways to get in and out of Canada with contraband. The narcotics and movement of contraband is big up here.”

For Healey, having previously worked on the Southwest Border, he’s seen smuggling from two perspectives. On the border it was a transit area, it was always going somewhere else. At HSI Syracuse, special agents see first-hand how it affects people on the streets.

With most HSI Syracuse special agents being from the area, they know how to approach the various investigations they face and maneuver through the ups and downs of the weather.

“[The weather] doesn’t stop business in Syracuse. It doesn’t slowdown from a criminal standpoint and neither do we,” Healey said.

Healey’s goal moving forward is for the office to continue to expand its footprints in the AOR. HSI Syracuse is very visible based on the relationships it has built. It’s working hand and hand with others that continues to make the office successful.

“In order to make an impact here, you must have the ability to create your own relationships,” Healey said. “Here in Syracuse, it’s a little bit slower, but you have to go out and seek cases, you have to go out and build those relationships with the informants you have. You can’t do it alone.”

Updated: 10/16/2018