Incidents lead to state audit, policy changes for drug task force
December 27, 2009
Steamboat Springs — A state audit and two embarrassing incidents involving the All Crimes Enforcement Team drug task force in the past year is leading to tightened procedures.
The audit, conducted by a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent, recommended that the task force update policies about how money for controlled drug buys is handled and when task force officers are allowed to drink alcohol while on undercover duty, among other policy changes. ACET and its commander, Garrett Wiggins, is overseen by a board composed of the directors of its member agencies: the Steamboat Springs Police Department, Craig Police Department, Moffat County Sheriff's Office, Hayden Police Department and the Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney's Office. The Jackson County Sheriff's Office also is involved to a lesser degree.
Even before the changes, however, most members of the multi-county drug task force said they think the three-man ACET team has been successful in drug busts and prosecutions.
One prominent dissenter is Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall. In 2007, shortly after he took office, Wall pulled his department — and its funding — from the program, formerly known as the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team.
Wall recently reaffirmed his decision to pull out of the program, citing problems with Wiggins and the program as a whole.
Wall cited the cases of the two former ACET members — Ken Johnson and Bob Brabo — prosecuted for crimes allegedly committed while working for the drug task force.
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Johnson will go to trial in May on charges of attempting to influence a public servant, accessory to a crime and embezzlement of public property.
A former Craig Police Department detective, Johnson is accused of lying to police during an internal investigation about a relationship he had with a Craig woman, aiding that woman in violating her probation for drug charges, providing her with information about ongoing law enforcement investigations and giving her a laptop computer and other equipment used by ACET.
In early December, Brabo, also a former Craig Police Department officer, pleaded guilty to stealing $500 of ACET money. Brabo was assigned to ACET at the time of the theft.
In a letter critical of ACET and Wiggins that Wall sent to several local law enforcement agencies and the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Wall claims that Wiggins and the task force misuse their power.
"I think it's awful to be spending public funds on an operation that operates that way," he said.
Wiggins, reached by phone during the holidays, said Wall's accusations are without merit.
"I read the letter obviously, and as usual, Gary Wall does not know all of the facts to each of the allegations that he's making there," he said.
Wiggins said he helped prosecute Johnson and Brabo when he discovered their suspected wrongdoing.
Wall's letter also mentions the handling of the arrest and criminal case of Jorge Orduno-Acuna.
In Orduno-Acuna's preliminary trial, Wiggins took the stand to testify about the amount of drugs seized in the investigation. Under cross-examination by Routt County Public Defender Sheryl Uhlmann, Wiggins was unable to add up the amount of seized drugs listed in his report to meet the 450-gram threshold for one of the charges filed against the suspect.
District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham said it was a basic math error and that there was nothing hidden or misrepresented in the report. Wiggins said there also was a discrepancy between the gross weight and net weight and that the mistake was not malicious.
Wall doesn't think Wiggins' miscalculation was an accident.
"He knew exactly what he was doing," Wall said.
The rancor between Wiggins and Wall extends at least since the 2006 sheriff's election, when Wiggins was one of two Republican candidates for the position.
Steamboat Springs Police Chief J.D. Hays said he is frustrated with Wall's accusations. Hays said the C.B.I. auditor said the task force was in order.
"I'm just tired of the nonsense," Hays said, adding that he suspects Wall's statements are politically motivated.
ACET is funded primarily through contributions from its member agencies. It has a $330,000 operating budget for 2010.
The task force primarily handles drug investigations and typically conducts 50 to 60 investigations a year.
In addition to revised money and alcohol policies, the ACET board has resumed weekly oversight meetings. Hayden Police Chief Ray Birch, who is based the closest to ACET's Hayden office, is a key component to those meetings.
"On the heels of the two incidents that have occurred in the past six months, they asked me to go there with the primary purpose of providing assistance to the task force commander, who at this time is Garrett Wiggins," Birch said. "If he has a personnel issue, or if he has an issue that he thinks is of concern, he can share it with me."
The author of the task force audit, Curt Williams, could not be reached during the holidays.