Home Phoenix Press Releases 2010 Tribal-Led Task Force Dismantles Cocaine Ring in Heart of Tohono O’odham Nation
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Tribal-Led Task Force Dismantles Cocaine Ring in Heart of Tohono O’odham Nation
Federally Certified Tribal Police Arrest 10, Seize Weapons, Cash, Vehicles, Cocaine, Marijuana, Ecstasy, in Early Morning Sweep

U.S. Attorney’s Office May 15, 2010
  • District of Arizona (602) 514-7500

SELLS, AZ—The Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department led a multi-jurisdictional task force in an early morning sweep Saturday, arresting 10 people and searching seven homes in this small rural community just a dozen miles north of the Mexican border. The combined operation targeted a network of alleged cocaine dealers in the Sells area, home to the Tohono O’odham people, and was the largest drug enforcement action ever undertaken on the Nation. Police seized weapons – including an assault rifle – vehicles, and undetermined quantities of cash, cocaine, ecstasy, and marijuana.

Ned Norris Jr., Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, said, “Our first priority is always the safety of the Tohono O’odham. The illegal actions by a select number of individuals have put the entire community at risk. We will not tolerate this unlawful behavior and we will not tolerate the violence that accompanies it. Families are safer today because of the dedication and hard work of our Tohono O’odham Police Department and the other law enforcement agencies involved in this effort.”

The arrests, which occurred without incident Saturday, follow a five-month investigation by the Tohono O’odham Police Department’s Anti-Violence Unit (AVU) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Division of Drug Enforcement, into a network of people allegedly involved in the cocaine trade. In the course of the investigation, which began in December 2009, undercover agents made 39 separate buys totaling more than $10,000, purchasing more than 250 grams of cocaine from various targets of the investigation.

“This is the first time tribal police have executed federal warrants in the Tohono O’odham Nation,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. “This enhanced enforcement capability can only strengthen public safety and the rule of law for the people of the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose presence in the Sonoran desert preceded the international border and the associated drug trade by centuries. This is good news for the future.”

The Tohono O’odham Police Department AVU has participated in a joint-training program by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the BIA. The training enables qualifying officers to obtain Special Law Enforcement Certification from the BIA, which grants the tribal police authority to investigate and make arrests on federal charges.

The Tohono O’odham Police Department is also a recipient of a U.S. Department of Justice Project Safe Neighborhood pilot program grant to enhance targeted law enforcement operations and provide community education on gun and gang-related violence. The Tohono O’odham Police have identified and monitored 28 separate criminal street gangs within the Nation, many of whom are known to be involved in the drug trade.

Eight of those arrested were wanted on federal charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison if convicted. Those defendants (detailed in attached chart below) will make their initial appearances at the U.S. District Courthouse in Tucson on Monday. Two additional people were arrested Saturday on state and tribal charges. Augustine De La Rosa, 26, was arrested on an outstanding state warrant and Jeremiah Antone, 19, was arrested on a tribal charges of possession of marijuana.

Two other people are wanted on federal charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. They were not located Saturday and are considered fugitives.

A criminal complaint is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tactical and investigative support for the takedown operation involved agents from the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the BIA, the FBI.; U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC), the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, and Tempe Police Department.

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