Pubdate: Thu, 26 May 2011 Source: Aspen Daily News (CO) Copyright: 2011 Aspen Daily News Contact: http://www.aspendailynews.com/submit-letter-editor Website: http://www.aspendailynews.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/635 Author: Carolyn Sackariason, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer DEA, SHERIFF'S OFFICE AT IMPASSE 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 said. 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 Rica. 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." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.