On the Front Lines of the Drug War in Houston

DEA Agent Nate Fountain poses with $10 million seized from a Mexican drug trafficking ring.
DEA Agent Nate Fountain poses with $10 million seized from a Mexican drug trafficking ring.

Alumnus Nate Fountain (BS’ 99) was bit by the narcotic bug as a new patrolman in Carrollton, Texas.

After 2-1/2 years and 400 arrests in Carrollton -- mostly on narcotic charges -- Fountain joined the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), where he has served as a Special Agent for nine years. Every day, he is on the front line of the War on Drugs, combating the narcotics trade in Houston, one of the largest hubs for drug distribution in the country.

In 2011, Fountain earned the Southwest Regional Award from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force for breaking up a Mexican drug trafficking ring that was distributing narcotics across the country to Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; St. Louis, MO; and Charlotte, NC. Using advanced investigative techniques, the operation led to the seizure of 700 kilos of cocaine, thousands of pounds of marijuana and $10 million in cash.

“At the DEA, you can do things on a grander scale because you have more resources at your disposal,” said Fountain.

A common tool is informants, who work with the narcotics traffickers and provide tips on the drug trade.

“Informants are our lifeline,” said Fountain. “If you don’t have informants, it is difficult to infiltrate the drug trafficking organizations. You have to have someone on the inside, providing information.”

Fountain helped get this shipment of 30 kilos of cocaine, with a street value of $950,000, off the streets.
Fountain helped get this shipment of 30 kilos of cocaine, with a street value of $950,000, off the streets.
While Fountain lives for the thrill of the hunt and the times he gets to execute search warrants to seize narcotics or money, most of his time is spent on paperwork developing cases. His workdays are very sporadic and always different. They may include talking to informants, setting up buy-bust operations, sitting on surveillance, completing paperwork for search warrants, or seizing money.

“For every five percent of action, there is 95 percent paperwork,” said Fountain. “For every arrest, it is probably a week’s worth of paperwork.

Before working in Houston, Fountain was assigned to DEA Detroit for five and half years, a violent, impoverished city that was the end of the line for the drug trade. Because of the loss of the automotive industry, Fountain said you could drive blocks and blocks in the city and see nothing but abandoned houses. The city was so violent that he witnessed drive-by shootings while sitting on surveillance.

“The narcotics traffickers in Detroit are selling dope to survive,” said Fountain. “When the auto industry dried up, the economy went south. It’s bad.”

Fountain decided on a criminal justice career while attending Sam Houston State University. To earn money for college, he took a job as a dispatcher for the Walker County Sheriff’s Office. It was there that he first experienced the thrill of police work. He became Dispatch Supervisor of the office by the time he was 20.

Fountain poses outside the College of Criminal Justice.
Fountain credits SHSU with giving him a good foundation for his career, and Huntsville for providing his first criminal justice related job.
“I learned to multi-task,” said Fountain. “You would be taking nine emergency calls and someone on the radio is asking you to run a plate. You have to learn to prioritize. Being a dispatcher provided the opportunity to learn several skills prior to becoming a police officer that would aid me in performing my tasks as a patrol officer in a more efficient manner.”

Following graduation, Fountain was offered three jobs for police departments in Huntsville, Austin and Carrollton. Since Carrollton offered the top pay, he accepted that position and served as a patrol officer in the Dallas suburb of 140,000. He applied to the DEA in 2002 and one year later he was hired by The Drug Enforcement Administration where he attended a 16-week academy in Quantico, VA, learning the tricks of the trade as a federal agent.

Fountain suggested anyone wanting to become a DEA agent get experience first in law enforcement or in the military. He said both professions teach you how to interact and deal with the public.

“You have to learn how to interact with people, how to talk to people and how to treat people.”

Fountain said SHSU gave him the foundation he needed to begin his career. He praised professors who had been practitioners, like Dr. Phillip Lyons and Dr. Merlin Moore, who knew firsthand what law enforcement officers face on the streets.

“The criminal justice program here gives students and potential police offers a good baseline and foundation to begin their careers in law enforcement,” said Fountain. “(After working at the Sheriff’s Department) when I got to the classes, they made more sense. I learned the things in class that the deputies I worked with were talking about and experiencing on the street. It made me a more well-rounded officer and gave me a better idea of what I would be doing in the field.”


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