A small Nevada drug ring supplying methamphetamine to Elmore and Ada counties was investigated and prosecuted through a new multi-agency operation meant to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy designated Ada and Canyon counties in Idaho and Malheur County, Ore., as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The designation brings assistance to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies operating in areas identified as critical drug-trafficking regions in the United States.
“It’s probably not something that communities anywhere would like to have because it tells us that we have a severe problem with drug trafficking,” said Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue.
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The program received an initial allocation of $200,000.
The national program was established in 1988. The Treasure Valley program is one of 28 high-density drug areas designated across the country. They cover 17 percent of the counties in the United States and 60 percent of the U.S. population.
The Idaho funding allowed the hiring of a special assistant U.S. attorney, Bryce Ellsworth, who will work exclusively on prosecution of drug cases. Those will mostly involve meth, which U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson calls the state’s worst scourge.
“We all understand the horrific impact that methamphetamine and other illegal drugs have on each and every individual who uses these substances,” Olson said during a press conference Wednesday. “Many become addicted, lives are ruined, families are disrupted and those in search of those illegal drugs often commit property crimes to fund their addiction.”
Daniel Valdenegro Zafiro, 24, of Elko, Nev., pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in the first case prosecuted by Ellsworth in the new program.
Co-defendants Diego Alcantar Armenta, 29, of Elko and Jose Diaz Juaraz, 44, of Grand View, Idaho, earlier pleaded guilty to the same charge. They each face up to 20 years in federal prison when they’re sentenced this spring.
Alcantar and Vadenegro drove to Boise from Elko in July and August and sold an undercover officer more than a half-pound of methamphetamine.
They later agreed to return on Sept. 17 with 1.3 pounds of meth valued at $8,200.
Before Alcantar arrived at the gas station in Boise where the deal was going to go down, he was stopped for a traffic violation and the drugs were seized.
The case was investigated by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Ada, Elmore and Owyhee county sheriffs’ offices, and the Elko Combined Narcotic Unit.
The designation as a high intensity drug trafficking area will allow Ellsworth to prosecute defendants taking part in drug activity across the Snake River in Malheur County when the drugs end up in Southern Idaho. Previously, federal drug cases in Malheur County were handled by prosecutors in Pendleton.
Since his hiring in June through the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, a partner in the program, Ellsworth has brought 13 other drug cases that are pending.
“The program is off and running,” Olson said.
Besides the agencies previously mentioned, the program involves police departments in Meridian, Nampa, Caldwell, Payette and Fruitland; sheriffs’ offices in Canyon, Payette and Washington counties; the Idaho State Police and the Idaho Department of Correction.
“We are dedicated to doing everything possible to safeguard our communities,” Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennetts said.