Havre Daily News - News you can use

Hi-Line Living - Drug task force

 

January 11, 2019

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Over the years the Tri-Agency Task Force has made great strides in taking large drug conspiracy cases to federal court, task force supervisor C.J. Reichelt said.

He added that there are many things, resources and time that go into making these large case arrests and to "cut off the head of the snake."

The Tri-Agency Task Force has two offices here on the Hi-Line, one in Glasgow and one in Havre. The Havre office is typically made up of four agents, a Havre Police officer, a Hill County sheriff's deputy, a Blaine County sheriff's deputy and an agent from the U.S. Border Patrol. The Havre Office covers Liberty, Hill, Blaine and Phillips counties, as well as the Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap Indian reservations.

Task force agents wear plain clothes and don't work patrols, instead they work different shifts that depend on what they have planned, as well as being on call 24 hours a day. Reichelt said he is a sergeant for the Havre Police Department, as well as supervisor and team leader for the task force. He added that all the task force agents are detailed, or full-time, task force agents.

Reichelt said that most of what they do are interviews with concerned citizens and interviewing inmates to help find out who is distributing drugs in the community. He said that they do this so they can get a clear idea of who the drug sources, or suppliers, are.

The task force approaches inmates and talks with them to see if they are able to get information, he said.

"We kind of work our way up the ladder, we know who to go talk to," Reichelt said.

He added that it is more beneficial working with other agencies in building cases for the large conspiracy crimes.

The communities are very interconnected, he said. Every one the task force has has been a multi-jurisdiction case, it was never people dealing in only a specific community, he said.

The police departments in these different communities are the boots on the ground for the task force, Reichelt said, and help them develope a clear picture of what is going on within the communities.

Many of the sources are tied to Washington state, California and Utah, Riechelt said. He added that many different Hispanic gangs, such as the Norteños, a northern California gang, and the Sureños, a

southern California gang, are involved.

"The sources are always connected to a gang, always," Reichelt said.

In addition to meth, prescription pills are a large problem in the community, he said, adding that heroin is not as prevalent as other places in the country.

The task force deals with larger organizations bringing in pills, Reichelt said.

Drug dealers bring in 5,000 to 10,000 pills every year, he said, adding that these are not doctors over-prescribing medication but pills coming from out of state.

Havre Police Chief Gabe Matosich said more than 100 people die per day nationwide due to the opioid epidemic.

Reichelt said that these pills can also be very dangerous because people don't know what they are really taking. He said the task force encountered a fake oxycodone pill which was made up of 30 milligrams of morphine, heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 100 times stronger than morphine.

"This place is flooded with pills and meth," Reichelt said. "You can pretty much throw a rock and hit a meth dealer."

"90 percent of the people we deal with that go to jail are probably using meth," he added.

Reichelt said that the task force gets involved in anything drug-related.

Matosich said without the task force, drug investigations would be complete chaos, adding that the task force is vital to these investigations.

He said the task force has the ability to work within the different communities in the area.

Reichelt added that without the task force, the police force wouldn't have the manpower it needs to work and build these large conspiracy cases.

He said the task force works hand in hand with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

He said the task force will call ATF if it has to do with guns, the FBI is there if it's something on the Native American reservations and the DEA if it involves large-scale meth or pill distribution, because of the DEA's tactical pill diversion team.

"If you take a case federally, you get a better outcome with it," Reichelt added.

The biggest holdback, he said it that people know who are bringing the drugs in, but don't want their names or identity tied to the information they provide.

"Which then ties our hands," he said.

He said they can't use the information for an affidavit for a search warrant or an investigative subpoena.

Without a witness it is hard to prosecute, he said. Many of the people remain confidential and are given a number until the point of discovery where their names need to be exposed, but the task force tries to prevent needing that as much as possible.

"If you want a healthy community and to prevent all the crimes that are going on and the overdoses and fatalities and suicides, then it's up to the community to help us do our job," Matosich said.

He added that the overcrowding of prisons on the state level can get frustrating, when officers keep arresting the same person over and over again.

"It's pretty much the same people day in and day out," Matosich said

Reichelt said that the task force stays proactive and focuses on its job and what it can do best.

"We can just do our jobs to the best of our abilities," he said, "When it goes to the courts then it is out of our hands."

He added that first-time offenders usually are sent to drug court for rehabilitation, so people can get their lives back.

Reichelt said he and the other task force agents do it pretty much for their love of the community.

Matosich added that the protection of the children is important to them as well, making sure that they have a good upbringing.

Reichelt has been with the task force for seven years, with his hours depending on what is being investigated.

"It's either feast or famine," he said.

Some days there is a lot of down time, where they obtain search warrants for phones, go through people's phones and obtain other electronic warrants, he said. They also request search warrants, depending on what they get into.

He said his favorite part of the job is working the bigger cases, making the conspiracy cases.

"Drugs are incorporated in every type of crime, so you may start out with a distribution case then move it on to a gun ring or a theft ring," Reichelt said.

He added that his father was in law enforcement and he was raised around law enforcement. He is also from Havre and has seen many different people and friends fall into the trap of drugs.

Reichelt said part of why is is doing this job is because he doesn't want to see anyone else end up that way.

He said that many task force agents do it for the benefit of the community.

"That's our ultimate goal," he said. "To try to stop the source bringing it in."

He added that there were some large cases in 2015 and 2016, with one of those cases just now getting to prosecution. With federal cases, involving large suppliers, Reichelt said, it usually takes some time before the case is taken to court.

He said that the task force likes to build large federal conspiracy cases that involve the DEA or ATF indicting out-of-state suppliers in addition to the people who are bringing it into the community.

He added that after these large conspiracy arrests of multiple people they do see a decline in drug flow, at least until somebody else comes to light.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Then officers have to put their focus on that new person, the common name that everyone is saying, and focus on trying to catch them and their co-conspirators, he said.

"That's pretty much the name of the game," Reichelt said.

But the task force also uses an alternative way to fight the growing drug problem in the United States - education.

Reichelt said that the task force does many different education events such as with schools, emergency medical teams, first responders. He said these classes involve teaching people what paraphernalia looks like and what drugs look like.  

"You don't typically see that in your day life," he said. "So if you come across it, you can recognize it."

 

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