$3.8 million in drugs seized

Jan 31 2011 - 12:30am

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The police battling drug dealers in Weber and Morgan counties had one record year in 2010.

In 2007, the total street value of the drugs the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force seized was about $314,000.

Last year, the strike force seized an estimated $3.8 million worth of drugs, more than a 10-fold increase compared to 2007.

The strike force seized about 36 times the amount of marijuana, 11 times the amount of cocaine and five times the amount of meth it did in 2007.

And in 2010, heroin arrived in Weber and Morgan counties as a mainstream drug and a much cheaper alternative to prescription-drug abuse.

"It was one incredible year," said Lt. Darin Parke, strike force commander.

And Mexican drug cartels are almost exclusively responsible for the increase, according to the strike force's annual drug seizure report.

The "incredible" year was the same year Arizona passed its controversial and stringent immigration law aimed at identifying and deporting illegal immigrants. Last year's increase in Top of Utah drug traffic is in part due to cartel drug dealers moving out of Arizona to escape the heat, Parke said.

Illegal immigrants made up 12 percent of the men and women the strike force agents arrested last year. But that 12 percent accounted for about 80 percent of the drugs, according to the strike force.

The cartels control the drug shipping routes to Utah, as well as the wholesale drug markets, and their control is continuing to expand into areas that were once the territory of Cuban, Italian and Colombian cartels among other drug organizations, according to the strike force report. The cartels partner with American street gang members to use them as enforcers and dealers.

Several of the top gang leaders are now in custody or in prison, according to the report.

In its report, the strike force advocates for better security at the U.S.-Mexico border, which "will have the greatest impact on drug crime and violence".

The Mexican government is helping out in the war against drugs. For instance, it banned ingredients necessary to create meth, which cooks produce in mass quantities in "Super Labs" to sell across the border, according to the report. But the cartels are still finding ways to smuggle in the ingredients or find other means to make it.

"Whatever the answer is, I don't have it," Parke said. What he can do is his job: find the drugs and get them out of Weber and Morgan counties, he said.

He feels good about the job his "go-getter" agents are doing. They seized a lot of drugs and made a lot arrests, so much so that large dealers from other parts of the state think Weber and Morgan counties are "too hot" and are rethinking delivering up here, he said.

But his battle is still growing more complicated.

Agents found only one meth lab last year. Cooks are adapting, shifting to the "shake and bake" method of mixing chemicals in a two-liter bottle to produce smaller but more discreet quantities, according to the report.

And two new drugs emerged last year: Spice, a controversial version of marijuana, and Ivory Wave, a currently legal bath salt that can have effects similar to cocaine when broken down. The legality of spice varies around the state.

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Ogden, is pushing his own legislation to outlaw spice and a derivative of Ivory Wave statewide. It has already cleared committee and the Utah House of Representatives almost entirely unopposed.

If the bill succeeds, law enforcement will have won a battle, but not the war, against drugs. The strike force will just keep at it, Parke said.

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