Saturday, April 14, 2012



Note: One has to wonder. Maybe something about the Santa Cruz and
Pima county organizations seldom catching anyone? But so much turns
up north of those counties?
"Now that they've got command and control here, we've got to take out
these bosses," Kempshall said. "

Sheriff's Office no longer leads local Metro drug task force

Antonio Estrada
"It's totally wrong and it's totally unfair and it's cruel to the
people who are going to be impacted by this." - Antonio Estrada, sheriff

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2012 8:52 am | Updated: 9:40 am, Fri Apr
13, 2012.
By Marisa Gerber
For the Nogales International |

Drug smuggling evolves. So efforts to thwart it should, too.
That's the thought process of Elizabeth Kempshall, director of
Arizona's High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, whose
executive board has the ultimate say in the operations of the state's
HIDTA task forces such as the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force.
However, a recent vote by the board as part of its evolving anti-drug
strategy has left some local officials feeling blindsided and
scrambling to figure out what to do without the HIDTA funding they've
come to expect over the past two decades.
"It's totally wrong and it's totally unfair and it's cruel to the
people who are going to be impacted by this," said Sheriff Antonio
Estrada, whose department was recently stripped of its title as head
agency of the SCC Metro Task Force.
The Sheriff's Office headed the multi-agency, anti-drug trafficking
task force since its establishment in the late 1980s. Now, U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal agency, will
take the helm.
"It's a federal takeover of a local task force," Estrada said, adding
that he fears the street-level trafficking enforcement – a pride
point for the sheriff – will lessen under ICE.
"The task force has had a tremendous impact on drugs in Santa Cruz
County," Estrada said. "One of the things I'm very intense about is
the street-level drugs, the people who are poisoning our youth. ICE
is not interested in street-level. They made a quote that they
weren't getting the bang for their buck at the street level. I took
offense to that. This is what's impacting our community."
While Kempshall stressed that the feds won't ignore street-level
traffickers, their focus is certainly on the bigger picture.
"If you're a drug trafficker bringing in dope and I take you out,
there are a whole lot of other yous," Kempshall said.
"That's why you have to take out the whole organization."
The main target? The Sinaloa drug cartel.
The powerful Mexico-based drug cartel has used Arizona as one of its
primary gateways into the U.S. for years, Kempshall said, but
recently it's taken an even stronger hold.

"Now that they've got command and control here, we've got to take out
these bosses," Kempshall said. "

You've got to use different law enforcement techniques when you want
to take out an entire organization."
Having ICE – with its swooping jurisdiction swath as a federal agency
– lead the task force will help see cases all the way through the
system, she said.
"The federal agency has that ability to follow the drugs out of the
state, say to Chicago, where they're destined," Kempshall said.
She added, however, that the state and local agencies will still play
a large role in the task force.
"Everybody brings something special to the table," Kempshall said.
"Say you're the Santa Cruz County deputy. You make the stop. This
trafficker may not mean that much, but you're able to get pieces of
information from that small-time drug trafficker, whether it's a
phone number or license place. You take that and push it to the HIDTA
information center. You may link that person to a major organization."
Kempshall said she thinks targeting the large organizations serves
the community well.
"If we can make Nogales an undesirable route, think about how much
safer it is for kids to go to school," she said.
How it unfolded
County Attorney George Silva, who gets a chunk of his budget from
HIDTA funds, said he first heard rumblings about a potential change
of power within the task force about nine months ago.
After meeting with other officials, however, Silva said he was under
the impression that the change would mean that there would
essentially be two task forces. One, which would be hosted by the
sheriff, would focus on street-level interdiction and it would funnel
information up to a second group, ICE's investigative task force.
"Metro would remain pretty much intact, it would just now be housed
out of the ICE building," Silva said. "That's the understanding we
had up until about two weeks ago."
But, after a recent meeting, Silva got a call from a panicked-
sounding Estrada. He said, "George, it went south on us. Things
changed dramatically from what we expected."
Turns out that a subcommittee of HIDTA's board denied the two-pronged
task force and instead recommended solely an ICE-led group. The board
has since approved the committee's recommendation.
Silva said one of his biggest frustrations with the process was that
HIDTA staff never told him about the change of plans.
"I didn't get a phone call. That was one of the biggest things that
bothered me," Silva said, adding that he spoke to Kempshall recently
and asked her why she didn't call him.
"She said she was told by the sub-committee of the board not to reach
out to us," Silva said.
Now that the decision has been made, however, Silva is looking forward.
His main concern: staff funding. HIDTA money currently funds two
attorneys, one detective and one support staff employee, Silva said.
"Obviously the first thing I did was pitch that to ICE," Silva said.
"I said, 'Look, these are the people I need.'"
And, so far, the feds seem receptive.
"They're very, very supportive," Silva said. "The last thing they
want to do is affect us here locally."
He can, however, see the change having a negative impact on the region.
If the task force decides, for example, to fund only one attorney,
Silva said, he would have to go to the County Board of Supervisors
and ask them to fund the other.
While the change will undoubtedly impact his office, Silva said, he
knows Estrada is in even more of a pinch
"He stands to lose way more than I do," Silva said.
'Honorable two decades'
The recent decision essentially puts five of his positions on the
chopping block, Estrada said.
The Sheriff's Office receives about $415,000 a year in HIDTA money,
Estrada said, which provides the salary of a lieutenant, a sergeant,
two agents and a custodian.
"We're looking at a major impact on people's lives, local people,"
Estrada said.
Estrada, whose office's HIDTA funding will dry up by the end of June,
said he's reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for
potential financial help.
Perhaps most frustrating of all, Estrada said, is the thought of
abandoning street-level trafficking efforts, which he considers a
real service to the community.
"We've had an honorable two decades of working with the community.
We're a tremendous resource," Estrada said. "Once we move over to
ICE, we're really not going to be working the street-level. They're
not going to do it."
Silva said he doesn't think the feds will ignore street-level offenses.
"They are too important to working up to the big fish and for
intelligence gathering," he said.
However, Silva said, he does anticipate an increase in federally
declined cases, which would mean the County Attorney's Office would
then have to prosecute those cases.
Although it will cause some changes, Nogales Police Chief Jeff
Kirkham said the shift shouldn't negatively impact his department.
In fact, on one hand, the decision bodes well for the department,
which currently has – and funds – two stand-alone ICE employees.
Those two positions will now be funded by grant money instead of
coming from the department's pot, Kirkham said.
That's the plus, but there is a downside, too: the department won't
get as much money in asset seizures.
Before, when NPD seized cash, 20 percent of it went to the feds and
the police department kept the rest. Now, however, the department
will have to split the remaining money will the other task force
More about Metro
In 1988, a drug task force called the Border Alliance Group was
initiated and led by the County Attorney's Office, Sheriff Antonio
Estrada said.
Within a couple of years, however, the local area was designated as a
high-intensity drug trafficking area (HIDTA) and the group was
reorganized and called the Metro Task Force.
For the past two decades, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office has
been at the helm of the multi-agency task force. Other involved
agencies include: the Nogales Police Department, the Arizona
Department of Public Safety, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the
U.S. Marshals Service and the County Attorney's Office.
Last year, the task force seized more than $20 million in a
combination of drugs and assets in Santa Cruz County, according to
the Metro task force's website.

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