Fight to the meth

GRAMNET releases enforcement report

Dusty Schulze, task force commander of the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotic Enforcement Team, said there is a great misconception behind his unit's mission.

"(Some people) think we're hiding in the bushes arresting kids at bus stops for smoking pot," Schulze said. He added, "We're not busting people for personal use. ...That's not what we do."

Instead, the group is charged with stopping trafficking operations, targeting distributors more so than personal users. Figures from GRAMNET's annual enforcement report reinforces Schulze's comments.

In the last 12 months, the drug task force made 74 arrests and taken about $82,590 worth of illegal narcotics off the street. Forty nine of those arrests, or 66 percent, were for either methamphetamine distribution, or possession, and the task force seized about 9 ounces of the highly addictive drug, or $17,800 in street value.

Other narcotics GRAMNET seized were: cocaine (25.96 ounces, or $52,000 in street value), Ecstasy (10 units or $250), psilocybin mushrooms (17 ounces or $2,566), marijuana (24 ounces or $9,644) and prescription pills (33 units or $330).

GRAMNET is composed of law enforcement officials and prosecutors from Moffat, Routt and Jackson counties. The task force covers an area roughly 2,500 square miles.

It's annual report, which will be delivered to government municipalities in Craig, Hayden and Steamboat Springs, recaps the task force's activity for the last year.

Those activities range from run of the mill arrests to clandestine undercover operations, according to the report.

"I think we've had a very successful year," said Schulze, boasting on GRAMNET's perfect conviction rate and adding that arrest and seizure numbers have all increased from recent years.

GRAMNET has executed 12 search warrants as a result of investigations this year. The task force has also conducted 53 controlled buy operations using confidential informants and undercover officers, and four controlled delivery operations, during which drug or money shipments were intercepted and then delivered to its intended recipient where an arrest was made.

Craig Police Department chief Walt Vanatta said GRAMNET has morphed into a sort of all-crimes unit in the past year. The task force has broadened its focus to include crime suppression instead of "solely narcotics."

Drug activity and other crimes go hand-in-hand, the police chief said.

"We find that probably 85 percent of our crime has a drug causal relationship," Vanatta said.

Currently, GRAMNET is assisting more than 10 other agencies, including the United States Secret Service, on a large scale counterfeiting investigation. Schulze said as many as 41 local businesses -- 26 in Craig and 15 in Steamboat Springs -- have been victimized by the counterfeiting ring.

Monetary losses could be more than $100,000, Schulze said, and the investigation is on-going.

Other notable activities for the year include GRAMNET processing a meth lab dumpsite, where $250,000 worth of stolen property was found, and a meth lab in Steamboat Springs.

Though there will a change in leadership for GRAMNET in 2007 -- officer Dustin Wiggins will assume command from Schulze, who has accepted a promotion to become a sergeant of the Craig Police Department, beginning Jan. 1 -- much of the unit will remain the same.

The task force lacks money to hire additional officers in the coming year. Grant funding continues to dwindle, Schulze said, while the business of methamphetamine production and distribution is booming.

"If you want to deal in meth, rural America is the place to be," he said.

To help the growing meth problem and a lack of officers and money to combat it, GRAMNET relies on educational efforts. During the past year, the task force conducted more than 30 educational seminars covering areas such as drug awareness, prevention and recognition.

Schulze described the educational efforts as "easily the most overlooked aspect of the task force."

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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