HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Armed Citizens Capture Pot Load
Pubdate: Thu, 17 Oct 2002
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2002 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Author: Tim Steller


LOCHIEL, Ariz. - Members of an armed citizens patrol seized about 280 
pounds of marijuana Tuesday and Wednesday from smugglers crossing a ranch 
owned by The Nature Conservancy.

About 13 volunteers for the group, called Ranch Rescue, have been working 
near Lochiel since Saturday in their first mission aimed at surveillance, 
rather than cleanups at border-area ranches.

An official of The Nature Conservancy said Wednesday night the group was 
unaware Ranch Rescue members had been operating on the San Antonio Ranch, 
about 65 miles south of Tucson. Tom Collazo, the director of conservation 
for the conservancy's Arizona branch, said the ranch manager would ask the 
group to stop today.

Jack Foote, the spokesman for Ranch Rescue, said the group received 
permission to conduct surveillance there from a ranch manager. Armed with 
that permission and semi-automatic rifles, the camouflage-clad members 
built a hide-out near a foot-trail across the ranch Tuesday evening.

Only about 15 minutes passed before smugglers trooped up the trail bearing 
bundles on their backs, Foote said. The Ranch Rescue members stepped out 
and told the smugglers "Alto!" - "halt" in Spanish.

"They dropped their packs and ran off," Foote said.

A similar incident occurred about nine hours later at 3 a.m. Wednesday, 
Foote said. He called members of the news media Wednesday morning so they 
could document the event, then reported it to law enforcement.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Deputy Ruben Laredo picked up the 13 bundles of 
burlap-wrapped marijuana about 2 p.m. Wednesday.

For Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, the drug seizures were an 
unexpected twist to a situation he had been following because of its 
dangerous potential. Estrada's primary concern, since he learned of the 
Ranch Rescue operation, has been what might happen if members encountered 
typical border-crossers and tried to arrest them.

What they did find still worries him.

"The concern is that these individuals, as well-meaning as they may be, 
could cause a major problem down there," Estrada said. "They don't have the 
training or the authority to be intercepting loads down there. That's 
better suited for law enforcement."

Estrada questioned the approximately 18-hour lapse between the time the 
smugglers dropped the initial load and the time the Sheriff's Department 
was notified. He also questioned why Ranch Rescue members moved the bundles 
from the spots they were dropped to a place near the ranch house.

"Obviously they wanted the impact of this particular event to reflect 
favorably on their presence, and they wanted the media there before we got 
there," Estrada said. "It could have been handled much better."

Ranch Rescue formed in 2000 when Foote, of Abilene, Texas, was inspired by 
news accounts of Cochise County rancher and businessman Roger Barnett. For 
years, Barnett and family members have patrolled their ranch east of 
Douglas, sometimes detaining illegal border crossers.

Until now, the group's operations have focused on helping ranchers fix 
fences and clean up trash, though they generally worked well-armed and 
wearing uniforms. This is the first time the group has mounted an operation 
focused on surveillance, Foote said.

He said the volunteers working at the ranch near Lochiel are from other 
states, but Arizona members helped set up the mission, dubbed "Operation Hawk."

Foote declined to identify the ranch manager who gave Ranch Rescue 
permission to conduct its operation on the property. He also declined to 
name the ranch. But a street sign and the Sheriff's Department identified 
the place as the San Antonio Ranch, purchased almost two years ago by The 
Nature Conservancy's Arizona branch.

News of the presence of heavily armed civilians on the ranch came as a 
shock Wednesday night to Collazo, the conservancy official. After learning 
of the situation from a reporter, Collazo contacted the ranch's manager and 
found out their presence resulted from a mix-up.

"He said he was contacted by this group, but he did not give them 
permission to camp on the property. He said he thought it was the Border 
Patrol," Collazo said.

"We're willing to cooperate with the authorities, but we haven't authorized 
this group to conduct any operations on this property," he said.

Among the men at the property Wednesday was Rob Krott, who said he is a 
former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces and is the chief foreign 
correspondent of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

Krott, an AR-15 slung over his shoulder and a sidearm holstered on his hip, 
reeled off stories of traveling to Afghanis-tan, Somalia and other world 
hot spots, as a soldier and on his own. Krott said he initially contacted 
Ranch Rescue with the idea of writing a story about the group.

Then he decided to join Operation Hawk and bring his own "tactical team" - 
ex-military friends he trusts. Part of the motivation, he acknowledged, is 
adventure, but he said he also believes in the group's property-rights message.

"We're not the problem here. We've broken no laws. We intend to break no 
laws," Krott said. "We're carrying legal firearms, for our personal 
protection, in accordance with Arizona law."
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