Study: Nevada leads nation in wiretapping - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

Study: Nevada leads nation in wiretapping

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A historical wiretapping display at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas. (FOX5) A historical wiretapping display at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas. (FOX5)

A new report indicates Nevada has more wiretap authorizations than anywhere else in the county by a long shot. Most of that activity takes place in Clark County.

The study, by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, shows most of the wiretapping in the Silver State is aimed at stopping drug-related crime.

Though the controversial topic has been in the news a great deal lately, it's nothing new in Las Vegas.

Wiretapping has been a powerful tool for police, and historians say Las Vegas would be a very different place today were it not for the technology.

In the 1970s, organized crime was still very much a part of Southern Nevada. Mobsters like Anthony Spilotro are etched into Las Vegas' history.

Despite his resourcefulness, Spilotro and many of his associates were ultimately taken down by what was revealed in telephone conversations.

"Las Vegas could still conceivably have more organized crime than it does if not for this technological advance that allows them to listen to mobsters," said Geoff Schumacher, director of content development for the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas.

The Mob Museum features displays that document how wiretapping helped law enforcement battle organized crime in years past.

The crimes may be different now, but the practice is still very much in use. According to the study, Nevada led the nation in 2013 for authorized wiretaps, about 38 taps for every 500,000 people.

"When we do them through wiretaps instead of working midlevel, we target the highest person in that organization and take them apart from the top down," said Kent Bitsko with Nevada's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally-funded program aimed at stopping high-profile drug crime.

Last year, 187 wiretaps were approved in Clark County, leading to 78 convictions.

Bitsko said his program needs the technology because Nevada is becoming a drug distribution point for the country.

"We also know when shipments come in. We're able to seize more drugs," he said.

Today, most wiretapping involves cell phones. Bitsko said criminals frequently throw their phones away to dodge wiretaps. When that happens, law enforcement again has to obtain authorization for a tap, pushing our state's numbers higher.

The study shows five states had no wiretap authorizations in 2013. They are: Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont.

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