Photo by George Lauby
Jeffrey Stamm, at left, with Sgt. Eric Rice of the Nebraska State Patrol. Rice is the CODE Task Force Commander.
From left: Sgt. Rice, Director Stamm, Ronda Livingston of the North Platte Police Department, Lt. Rich Thompson of NPPD
and North Platte Police Chief Mike Swain.
Law officers and drug investigative task forces throughout central and western Nebraska received high praise Tuesday.In a ceremony in North Platte, Jeffrey Stamm, the director of the federal government’s Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency, honored about 20 officers in the company of another 50 or so colleagues.
“It is absolutely our privilege and pleasure to have this opportunity to come out and say thank you,” Stamm said.
“What you do makes a difference,” he said. “We won’t arrest our way out of the drug problem, but we won’t treat and educate our way out of it either. Law enforcement takes out the passages and the vectors of traffickers, who attempt to prey on the public by selling them drugs simply for the money, and encouraging addiction.”
Stamm praised the year-long investigation that resulted in the arrest of 56 suspects on federal distribution charges in late February 2016. The bust reached from Grand Island into eastern Colorado, disrupting or dismantling three drug trafficking organizations, officials said.
That investigation was nicknamed Operation Mexican Seafood, in part because the distribution network was directly connected to drug cartels in Mexico.
It was the largest drug sweep in Nebraska history, Stamm said, covering 15 cities and towns in a single day. Eight more subjects were subsequently arrested. In addition to the arrests, officers purchased or seized more than 46 pounds of methamphetamine, $34,000 in cash, 13 firearms, three vehicles and other drug proceeds.
“Although the amounts seized were less than we might see in Houston or Chicago, nobody in the country worked with more dedication than you to identify traffickers up to the highest levels,” Stamm told the audience.
The Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency (HIDTA) covers six states -- the largest geographical area in the U.S. out of the 28 HIDTAs in the U.S.
The recipients were nominated by their peers.
Recipients included law officers from the Cooperative Operation for Drug Enforcement (CODE) Drug Task Force, the Western Nebraska Intelligence & Narcotics Group (WING) and the Central Nebraska Drug and Safe Streets Task Force (CNDSSTF), as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Bunjer.
The degree of interagency cooperation in that investigation was unprecedented, Sgt. Eric Rice said.
Dottie Anderson of the CNDSSTF was recognized as an outstanding intelligence analyst in the Midwest area for analyzing information about trafficking networks.
Officials told the Bulletin that heroin is showing up in eastern Nebraska, but meth remains the primary hard drug available in central and western Nebraska.
Heroin laced with fentanyl is especially addictive, they said. Even more addictive drugs are all-too-common in other parts of the U.S., particularly eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Anderson said it is a constant challenge for analysts such as herself to keep up with rapid technological changes, as they check telephone, facebook and twitter records for information.
“It almost changes by the minute,” Anderson said of the technology, “but so far, we are able to keep up.”
Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman said drug cartels don’t respect jurisdictional lines or “civilizational norms” of the U.S., nor are they bound by the obligations of an open government, “but they are not smarter than we are.”
“This is a great example of working together,” Overman told the federal, state and local officers. “The taxpayers just want the cops there to do their job.”
Later, Overman told the Bulletin that the 2016 crackdown constricted the flow of meth into Nebraska for several months, but meth is readily available again in the region.
The use of harder, extremely addictive drugs is increasing, Stamm said, and the public should be wary.