Pubdate: Thu, 26 May 2011
Source: Aspen Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2011 Aspen Daily News
Author: Carolyn Sackariason, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer


Aspen and Pitkin County's top lawmen met with federal Drug Enforcement
Administration agents on Wednesday in an attempt to shed light on why
they weren't notified beforehand of last week's arrests of six local
residents on suspicion of alleged cocaine distribution.

After meeting for an hour and a half, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe
DiSalvo and Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said the relationship
with federal drug enforcement officials remains strained.

"We don't feel we have taken any great strides forward," Pryor said,
adding he is disappointed that no concrete agreement was reached.

DiSalvo agreed.

"Richard and I came into the meeting expecting a working agreement and
we don't have that yet and we're trying to get there," he said.

Jim Schrant, head of the DEA's Grand Junction office who met with the
local top cops, said the sheriff's office was not told of the arrests
that occurred last Thursday because of the relationship DiSalvo has
with some of the targets of the investigation.

When asked to provide more detail and evidence establishing what kind
of relationship DiSalvo may have with the alleged suspects, Schrant
declined to comment, saying it's an ongoing investigation. He did
point to not only DiSalvo's relationship with the suspects but also
former sheriff Bob Braudis' affiliation with them.

"We didn't notify the sheriff's office because of the previous
sheriff's relationship with them," Schrant said after the meeting,
which was held in DiSalvo's office. Pitkin County Undersheriff Ron
Ryan and APD assistant police chief Bill Linn also were in attendance.

DiSalvo said he doesn't have a relationship with those arrested on
cocaine charges and they are merely acquaintances. Apparently the DEA
believes otherwise.

"There are trust issues with the sheriff's office specifically, not
with the Aspen Police Department," DiSalvo said, adding the DEA will
in the future notify the APD before it conducts an operation here.
"It's our hope that we can start building trust with their operations
and agency."

While many of the suspects are longtime locals, DiSalvo said he does
know a few of them, but there is no relationship that would put the
DEA's investigation in jeopardy.

DiSalvo, who has an open door policy and approaches law enforcement in
a community policing fashion - as does the APD - said the DEA doesn't
understand the small-town environment of Aspen.

"It's hard for me to be a wide-open sheriff with a wide-open door," he
said. "I'm here for everybody."

DiSalvo and Pryor said not being notified before the DEA conducts an
operation is a matter of safety for local law enforcement officers and
the public. It's also an issue of upholding the community's value of
not wanting undercover investigations conducted here.

"There is nothing more important to me than the safety of this
community and our officers," DiSalvo said.

Schrant declined to comment specifically how notifying the sheriff's
office would have hampered the DEA's operation.

"It was an operational decision to not notify because of the
relationship," he said.

DiSalvo, who was elected last November to his first term as sheriff,
said he doesn't judge anyone in the community - whether they are
law-abiding citizens or criminals.

"I'm not making a judgment on anyone who's coming to me for help," he

Pryor said it was evident during the meeting there is a difference in
philosophy between local law enforcement and the DEA's approach to
big-town drug trafficking.

About two hours after talking with Schrant, Pryor and DiSalvo met with
Pitkin County commissioners in an executive session and debriefed them
on what was discussed at the meeting.

The Aspen-area suspects are charged in connection with a nearly
year-long investigation that alleges they helped bring more than 200
kilograms of cocaine to the upper valley over 15 years. Six of the 10
defendants are listed as Aspen residents, though some live outside
town: Peggy Schlaugher, 41; Wayne Reid, 65; Jack Fellner, 60; Joseph
Burke, 63; Joan Anastasi, 67; and Christopher Sheehan, 65. Each is
charged with distributing and possessing with intent to distribute 5
kilograms or more of cocaine.

All but Reid and Sheehan were arraigned in U.S. District Court in
Denver on Wednesday. Reid, who remains in custody with no bond, asked
for a continuance, which the court granted. He will appear in court
again next week, according to Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S.
Attorney's Office in Denver.

Sheehan is currently being transported to Denver by U.S. Marshals,
Schrant said. He was arrested Thursday at Dallas-Fort Worth
International Airport after he disembarked off a flight from Costa

The remaining defendants pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges
that allege between July 2010 through April, they conspired to own and
sell more than 5 kilos of cocaine, according to an indictment handed
down by a federal grand jury on April 19. Anastasi, Burke, Fellner and
Schlaugher are free on $20,000 bonds.

Burke donated $100 to DiSalvo's campaign and Fellner donated $75.
Burke also contributed $100 to Braudis' 2006 campaign, according to
Pitkin County Clerk records.

When contacted by the Aspen Daily News to inquire whether he is
representing any of the defendants, (which he isn't) Gerry Goldstein,
a prominent Aspen and Texas attorney, said DiSalvo has done nothing
wrong and he is proud of how local law enforcement approaches
community policing.

It's a blessing and a curse, Goldstein said of the well-known,
accessible sheriff.

"God forbid we have a law enforcement officer who knows people in the
community," he said. "I don't want to live in a community where our
law enforcement officers don't know the people who live in it."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.