By Naomi Hatch
“Every agency, including DPS (the Arizona Department of Public Safety), is involved in the task force,” Navajo County Sheriff KC Clark told those attending the Jan. 22 Snowflake Town Council meeting.
The Snowflake-Taylor Police Department is a member of the Major Crimes Apprehension Team (MCAT), with Officer Bobby Martin serving as an important part of the task force that is working to get drug dealers off the street.
“When you get drug dealers off the streets, you reduce crime,” said the sheriff.
STPD also has a K-9 that will help with drug cases.
Clark asked the council members to lobby the legislature regarding Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) funding, because there is talk of cutting that back some. “RICO money is important to all of law enforcement,” he said.
RICO is a federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties, such as confiscating vehicles, homes and money that was part of drug trafficking.
The sheriff said he has been involved in over 3,000 RICO cases. “We take their cash, their boats, homes… we take their bling,” he said.
“I believe in education and strict enforcement, especially people who profit from people that are addicted,” said Clark.
He noted that they are working with District III County Supervisor Sylvia Allen toward some type of treatment in Navajo County, whether it be geared toward alcohol or drug addiction, noting, “Using the jails nationwide is not working.”
In response to a question from Councilman Kerry Ballard, Clark said that the Board of Supervisors approved an agreement earlier that day to cross-commission sheriff’s deputies. They are waiting for approval from the Navajo Nation to implement it.
The sheriff introduced Jim Molesa, his chief deputy, who has had an extensive career in law enforcement, just retiring from the Drug Enforcement Agency, and stated, “He’s the expert.”
Molesa was at the Mesa Police Department 12 years, where he worked cases of physical sexual abuse against children and narcotics. He was a 12-year resident DEA agent in Flagstaff, and noted, “I’m intimately familiar with your problems.”
The new chief deputy noted that it’s not the drugs, not the marijuana that are the problem, it’s the legal drugs.
“We realize that incarceration isn’t the answer,” he said. Behavior has to be reinforced so they don’t go back to the same circle of friends. He explained that drug dealers don’t have any boundaries and that they only make 10 cents on the dollar when they pawn something, “so they’re going to go to our different communities and they’re going to victimize all our citizens.” This is why it is so important to have the task force that includes all communities.
Lt. Randy Moffitt of MCAT gave statistics on the quantity of illegal drugs removed by MCAT and HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas), a federal grant program administered by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, including marijuana 838.27 lbs., with a street value of $1,131,907; methamphetamine, 16.27 lbs., street value of $192,322; heroin, 365 grams, street value of $15,511; cocaine, 4.26 lbs., street value of $52,326; marijuana plants, 37, valued at $21,300; ecstasy, 94 dosage units, street value of $1,880; hashish, 1.05 lbs., street value of $9,520; and prescription drugs, 406 dosage units valued at $4,060. There were 643 suspects arrested, 110 illegal immigrants arrested and 31 weapons seized.
“Major crimes is our focus in narcotics, but we’ll go wherever we’re needed,” said Moffitt.
Martin, the STPD officer on MCAT, said that he, a Pinetop officer and a Show Low officer work the entire south county beginning at Snowflake. “We focus a lot on using confidential informants to get drugs off the street,” he said.
Martin noted that they have had 176 grams of marijuana seized or purchased, spending over $3,000 of RICO money, which resulted in 64 felony charges and 11 arrests. They have purchased or seized 14.8 grams of methamphetamine, resulting in 80 felony charges and 11 arrests.
“(Most) people that we deal with can’t afford pills,” he said, but they still had 10 felony charges and three arrests resulting from such cases. A convicted felon purchased several guns, and they seized four of them during a search that was authorized by a warrant. They worked with Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the two arrested are looking at minimum 15 years sentences for selling guns because they were felons.
Martin has been trained in equipment that recovers text messages, e-mail and contacts that have been deleted from cell phones. That information is used as evidence and in investigations.
“We realize treatment is the key to break the cycle of addictions,” said the sheriff, acknowledging that someone will go through treatment an average of seven times before the addiction is broken. “The goal is to incarcerate those individuals that would capitalize on someone else’s addiction.”
According to Clark, drug court, which is done in cooperation with County Attorney Brad Carlyon and the Superior Court, is working, but there are some stringent guidelines.
In response to questions posed by Councilman Tom Poscharsky, the sheriff explained how they are working with pawnshops to clean them up. He noted that he went to the Board of Supervisors and asked for an ordinance that requires everyone who pawns something to pay a $3 fee, as well as recording the serial number of the pawned item, and a thumbprint and photo of the person with the item. At that time he didn’t have figures for recovery, but a year later they had recovered approximately $40,000 in items. He also noted that it costs $10,000 to belong to a program in which police departments throughout the nation input stolen items.
Sgt. Alan DeWitt of STPD said that it works, noting that he took a report in November of three stolen firearms and entered the information on them. They were recovered when they were sold in Show Low, because STPD had entered the information into the national database.
“I want to reiterate that this is a big team effort,” said Snowflake-Taylor Chief of Police Jerry VanWinkle. “We work together,” noting there were 44 drug investigations, most initiated by traffic stops. “This is a very valid task force that we have.
“Bobby (Martin) was the best of the best,” said the chief, noting that as an STPD detective, he was closing cases right and left.
“We want the council, this community and Taylor, and the chief to know we are firmly committed to continuing this battle on all fronts,” said the sheriff.
By Naomi Hatch