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Strategies for Responding to Target Letters From the DEA Tactical Diversion Squad

Target Letters From DEA Tactical Diversion Squads: What You Need to Know

If you have received a target letter from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Tactical Diversion Squad (TDS), it likely came as an unwelcome surprise. However, try not to panic. While being investigated by federal agents is daunting, having an understanding of the process and your rights can help you navigate it more smoothly. This article provides an overview of DEA target letters, TDS operations, potential charges, and legal defenses to consider.

What is a DEA Tactical Diversion Squad?

The DEA Tactical Diversion Squads are specialized units combining DEA resources with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Their purpose is to investigate and build cases against individuals and organizations suspected of violating the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and other related statutes[1].

TDS units focus their efforts on preventing, detecting, and investigating the diversion of legitimately produced controlled substances into the illicit market. The diversion of prescription opioids and other medications with a potential for abuse is a major concern. TDS agents specifically target “pill mills”, unethical pharmacies, and medical professionals contributing to the opioid epidemic through over-prescribing. They also go after illegal distribution networks and interstate drug trafficking organizations[2].

In recent years, combating opioid diversion has become a top priority for the DEA. The agency has expanded TDS groups across the country to ramp up diversion control efforts. Teams now operate in over half of DEA’s field divisions[3].

What is a DEA Target Letter?

A target letter is an official notification you are under investigation and may face criminal charges. This letter is sent out by federal agencies like the DEA when they have identified you as a target in an ongoing case. Receiving one means you are now part of an active law enforcement operation[4].

Target letters mark the beginning of the pre-indictment phase of a federal investigation. At this point, charges have not been filed yet. The letter serves as an invitation to engage with investigators and provide your side of the story. It will typically contain a “proffer letter” offering you the chance to cooperate as a witness[5].

Receiving a target letter means investigators likely have evidence implicating you in a crime. However, the case against you isn’t solidified yet. This gives you some wiggle room to negotiate if you choose to cooperate. Though ignoring the letter altogether is ill-advised.

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Charges in DEA Diversion Investigations

There are a wide range of charges potentially brought in DEA diversion control investigations depending on the specifics of each case. Some potential criminal offenses include:

  • Unlawful distribution of controlled substances
  • Healthcare fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Racketeering
  • Tax evasion
  • Obstruction of justice

Penalties vary based on the offense, but may include substantial fines and years in federal prison. Those convicted also commonly face license revocation, asset forfeiture, and loss of hospital/clinic privileges.

Distribution of Controlled Substances

One of the most common charges in TDS cases relates to the illegal distribution of controlled substances in violation of the CSA[1]. This may involve:

  • Distributing without a valid prescription
  • Distributing outside the usual course of professional practice
  • Prescribing without a legitimate medical purpose
  • Filling invalid prescriptions
  • Diverting drugs for non-medical use
  • Trafficking controlled substances

Penalties under the CSA depend on several factors like the substance, quantity, and whether serious bodily injury or death resulted. Fines range from $250,000 to $10 million. Prison sentences range from 3 years to life.

Healthcare Fraud

Another common charge is healthcare fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1347. This covers schemes to defraud healthcare benefit programs like Medicare or private insurers. Tactics may include:

  • Billing for unnecessary services
  • Billing for services never provided
  • Upcoding office visits
  • Accepting kickbacks
  • Waiving patient co-pays

Penalties can include up to 10 years imprisonment, fines up to $250,000, and restitution payments. Healthcare fraud often leads to administrative consequences like exclusion from federal healthcare programs.

Money Laundering

Money laundering charges may apply under 18 U.S.C. § 1956 if illicit profits were generated from the diversion scheme. This includes attempting to conceal criminal proceeds or funnel them through legitimate businesses to conceal the source. Charges may involve[1]:

  • Knowingly conducting transactions with criminal profits
  • Transporting funds derived from criminal activity
  • Attempting to disguise the source of illegal funds
  • Engaging in transactions to avoid reporting requirements

Penalties can be severe. Fines can reach $500,000 or twice the amount laundered. Prison sentences can be up to 20 years[3].

Responding to a DEA Target Letter

If you receive a target letter, you face some big decisions. Carefully weighing your options is critical. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Get Legal Representation

Consulting with an attorney experienced in federal investigations should be your first move. They can provide guidance at every stage, protecting your rights and interests[5]. An adept lawyer may be able to negotiate a favorable resolution before charges are filed.

Don’t Panic

Try to remain calm. Target letters aim to pressure suspects into making poor choices. While the situation is serious, losing your cool helps no one. Take time to process the information with counsel present.

Evaluate the Evidence

Through your attorney, request to see the prosecution’s current evidence. This will reveal the scope of their investigation and strength of their case. Understanding their position better informs your strategy.

Explore Resolution Options

In many investigations, cooperating as a witness and entering a plea bargain resolves the matter without a trial. Your lawyer can advise if this route is suitable based on the charges and evidence.

Don’t Speak to Investigators

Politely decline interviews or information requests from investigators without counsel present. Anything you say may be used against you. Let your lawyer handle communication.

Building a Strong Defense Strategy

While target letters put you on the defensive, the case is far from unwinnable. An experienced federal criminal defense attorney can identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s position. They will thoroughly analyze the evidence and applicable laws to build the strongest defense.

Some potential defenses to explore include:

Lack of Criminal Intent

Many charges require proving you knowingly and intentionally committed a crime. Evidence showing you acted in good faith may undermine arguments you had criminal intent.

Unlawful Search and Seizure

If evidence was obtained improperly in violation of your 4th Amendment rights, your lawyer may be able to get it suppressed. This could cripple the prosecution’s case.


Undercover tactics that encouraged otherwise innocent people to commit a crime may support an entrapment defense. This is very fact specific.

Statute of Limitations

Certain statutes of limitations dictate how long after an alleged crime charges can be filed. An experienced lawyer may identify bases to argue the statute expired.

While challenging a DEA investigation is daunting, all hope is not lost if you are targeted. With an experienced federal defense lawyer guiding you, it is possible to mitigate charges or even defeat them in court. Don’t go it alone. Consult with counsel as soon as possible to map out an effective strategy.


[1] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1956
[2] https://www.federalcriminallawyer.us/federal-money-laundering/
[3] https://www.keglawyers.com/federal-money-laundering
[4] https://federal-lawyer.com/securities-litigation/anti-money-laundering/federal-defense/

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