Pubdate: Tue, 2 Sep 2008
Source: Bemidji Pioneer (MN)
Copyright: 2008 Forum Communications Co.
Author: Brad Swenson, Bemidji Pioneer


Beltrami County has been holding its own in the war against drugs, 
says Gary Peterson, supervisor of local drug task force efforts.

"Our efforts are unique in Minnesota, and probably in the United 
States," Peterson, a Beltrami County deputy assigned supervise the 
task forces, told Beltrami County commissioners last month.

A state-funded task force, the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force, operates 
out of Bemidji and includes officers from many local city and county 
jurisdictions. The Headwaters Safe Trails Task Force, funded through 
the FBI, is also headquartered at Bemidji, and is responsible for 
drug enforcement efforts on area American Indian reservations.

"We have the benefit of two task forces here, with two Beltrami 
County deputies on each," Peterson said. "The FBI furnishes vehicles 
and gas to all on the task force, as well as cell phones and overtime 
up to $15,310 a year. These are dollars that don't have to come out 
of county budgets."

The Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force handles a lot of smaller cases, he 
said, but investigations may lead to larger cases that would come 
under federal jurisdiction, calling in the Safe Trails Task Force.

"They could end up with federal prosecution," Peterson said.

The work speaks for itself, he says, as the task forces have done in 
the past year:

. 98 arrests, both felony and misdemeanors.

. 50 search warrants executed for controlled substances.

. 12 undercover drug buys.

. 37 drug buys by confidential informants.

. 17 presentations by task force officers to civic organizations.

. 26 assists to other law enforcement agencies and task forces 
outside the area.

. 15 federal indictments for drug offenses.

. 18 guilty pleas from previously indicted federal defendants.

Along the way, the drug task forces have seized about 6 ounces of 
crack cocaine, 11 pounds 6 ounces of powder cocaine, 1 pound 7 ounces 
of methamphetamine, 70 dosage units of Oxycontin, 10.45 pounds of 
marijuana and $22,320 in U.S. currency.

Peterson also said the task forces have taken 48 firearms off the 
streets, including 15 assault rifles, two sawed-off shotguns, two 
stolen handguns and three fully automatic submachine guns.

"These statistics would be considered good anywhere," he said. 
"Eleven pounds of cocaine is a huge amount -- selling at $100 a gram. 
That's some serious money."

The Red Lake Band of Chippewas initially pulled out of the Safe 
Trails Task Force, but Peterson said the task force still operates on 
the reservation, as all officers are cross-deputized as federal 
agents and the Red Lake Police Department recognizes that authority.

The Red Lake Tribal Council "had a difference of opinion" in puling 
out, Peterson said, but the band's public safety director, "sees it 
as an officer safety issue too. ... We do go up there, even though 
there is no signed memorandum of understanding.

"The work is getting done, as we have special federal jurisdiction," 
he added. "The Sheriff's Office, however, can't pursue (suspects) on 
the reservation."

As a result, significant results have been logged, Peterson said, citing:

. The long-term investigation of a drug trafficking organization 
based out of the Red Lake Reservation resulted in 35 federal 
indictments, including two Red Lake police officers. More than 5 
kilograms of cocaine and 1 pound of meth were seized, in addition to 
three dozen firearms and $10,000 cash.

"This was the first major case where dealers using Red Lake as a safe 
haven from local authorities were targeted by the Safe Trails Task 
Force," Peterson said, using jurisdiction through special 
deputization from the federal government.

. Leech Lake tribal officers executed a search warrant that resulted 
in four arrests, the seizure of an assault rifle and cash, and the 
disruption of a crack manufacturing operation. Two of the people 
involved were charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minneapolis.

. A collaborative effort between the task forces and the U.S. Drug 
Enforcement Administration and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal 
Apprehension in the Twin Cities resulted in an investigation of 
Hispanic drug dealers who were supplying large quantities of meth to 
the task force area. In addition to local undercover purchases, more 
than two pounds of meth were seized in the Twin Cities and federal 
indictments were handed down by a grand jury.

The work could be jeopardized, however, Peterson said as federal 
appropriations are expected to diminish, and the state has already 
tried to eliminate funding for state drug task forces outside of the 
Twin Cities.

An important part of the task force is continuing education, he said, 
which costs money. Included are FBI street survival courses, 
undercover school, search warrant writing, wiretap training, asset 
forfeiture and computer forensics.

It is hoped the federal funding will be available in 2009, and that 
the state may pick up that portion after that.

Also key locally, he said, is that Beltrami County Sheriff Phil 
Hodapp serves as chairman of the task forces, and that the Beltrami 
County Auditor-Treasurer's Office serves as the task forces' fiscal agent.

Cass and Hubbard counties have left the Paul Bunyan Task Force, and 
Lake of the Woods and Roseau counties may leave after Jan. 1, 
Peterson said. Meanwhile, Mahnomen County and the White Earth Tribal 
Police Department have joined the task force.

"The Leech Lake Tribal Police is on a hiatus from the Headwaters Safe 
Trails Task Force due to a manpower shortage, but we continue to 
respond to their requests for assistance," he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs will be assigning a full-time 
investigator to the Safe Trails Task Force by year's end, he added.

Beltrami County is a member of both task forces, as are the Bemidji 
Police Department and Clearwater and Mahnomen counties and White 
Earth Tribal police.

The federal task force also includes the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, 
Tobacco and Firearms, Minnesota BCA and Minnesota Department of Corrections. 
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