2004 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Peter Darling and the Operation Kids For Cover Team

Shut down a massive conspiracy in which rented babies and women couriers were used to smuggle cocaine in baby formula cans.

Just when you thought drug dealers could not stoop any lower, you hear about the following scheme—renting babies and using the baby formula cans to smuggle cocaine. That sounds like something out of the imagination of a Hollywood screenwriter, but the sad truth is that such a conspiracy was very real. The good news is that thanks to Peter Darling’s team at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Chicago U.S. Attorney’s office and the Drug Enforcement Agency, this smuggling ring has been dismantled and the perpetrators are serving very real jail time.

During the course of this unspeakable crime, 22 infants, eleven of whom were rented from their parents, were used as decoys on 45 trips from Panama to Chicago, New York and London. Many of the couriers, several of whom were drug addicts, carried the cans containing formula to feed the infants in the same bag as the identical cans containing liquefied cocaine, making for an extremely dangerous situation. One of the babies who was rented on six occasions was left with a stranger as the drug addicted courier was trying to score some heroin. And on another trip, that same baby was abandoned by another courier in an empty bathtub, because the courier could not stand the incessant crying.

The investigation, known as “Operation Kids for Cover,” has resulted in 49 convictions. The defendants range from the drug suppliers to the Chicago based organizers; from the couriers to the parents who rented their babies knowing they were to be used as decoys on drug smuggling trips. The Chicago leader of the conspiracy was convicted after a three week trial and was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison.

The team’s accomplishments not only benefited the children, but also the couriers themselves, who were forced to face their addictions and get treatment, and the people who live in the neighborhoods where the crack cocaine was eventually being sold. Investigating and prosecuting this case was truly a team effort, spanning the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Chicago U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Agency. And while this particular case may have garnered them the most attention of their careers, the fact is that the leaders of this investigation have already demonstrated a long-term commitment to public service.

Customs Agent and investigation leader Peter Darling has served 16 years as a state and federal law enforcement officer. Billy Warren who was the other lead agent served in the Air Force, the Kansas City Police Department, and the Drug Enforcement Agency in addition to Customs. Lead prosecutor Scott Levine has been an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Chicago for 15 years. Prosecutor David Hoffman has tried several complex international drug conspiracy cases as the Deputy Chief of the Narcotics and Gangs section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. And DEA agents Chris Geer and Keith Kinnard have devoted countless hours in their careers doing the interviews, evidence gathering, document review, and trial preparation necessary to put dealers behind bars.

Clearly, this was not the first time that these six devoted public servants have put the bad guys behind bars, and it certainly won’t be the last.

This medalist was the recipient of the Justice and Law Enforcement Medal. This medal was combined with the Homeland Security category in 2013, and renamed the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal in 2020.