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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: U.S. Attorney

Five Idahoans indicted in spice bust, authorities say major national player has been taken out

Five people from Boise and Meridian have been indicted on federal charges for smuggling, money laundering, and selling “spice,” a synthetic marijuana product, and authorities say they were operating across the nation. “This investigation has taken out a major player in the synthetic drug industry who was operating coast to coast,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Matthew G. Barnes. “Criminal drug organizations prey on our youth to line their pockets with millions of dollars in drug proceeds. This emerging industry poses a significant threat to our communities and regardless of how they are marketed, we will continue with our law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue them.”

Click below for a full news release from U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson; the indictment by a federal grand jury in Boise was unsealed yesterday. The indictments are the result of a joint operation by an array of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. “Although we don't yet know the full toll that these substances that mimic cannabis have taken on users, we do know that emergency room workers, parents and law enforcement officers have terrifying stories of medically dangerous and sometimes deadly reactions,” Olson said. “I commend all of the agencies and prosecutors who spent countless hours bringing the investigation to this point.”

Justice Dept. sues Jerome sheriff over violating Guard member’s employment rights

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the Jerome County Sheriff’s office, saying it violated the employment rights of an Army National Guard member. Mervin Jones, a corporal for the sheriff’s office, suffered a knee injury while deployed to Iraq in 2004, and later aggravated it during Guard training in 2008. The sheriff’s department is accused of refusing to accommodate him as he recovered from knee injuries in 2009, and then firing him.

“Members of the Army National Guard sacrifice time away from their jobs to serve their country,” said U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson. “USERRA (the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994) ensures that they are not discriminated against after they have returned and their employment rights are protected. We are committed to vigorously enforcing USERRA’s protections.” You can read the U.S. Attorney’s full announcement here.

Eastern Idaho man gets year in federal prison for theft from Sho-Ban casino

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A 32-year-old eastern Idaho man is headed to prison for a year after acknowledging he stole thousands from an Indian reservation casino. John R. Mejia of Rigby was sentenced Tuesday to 12 months plus a day, followed by three years of supervised release and the requirement he repay $177,611. Mejia was indicted in July 2011, on one count of theft from the Shoshone-Bannock Fort Hall Casino. He'd been working there as a gaming technician and admitted he took money from the casino by creating duplicate vouchers from gaming machines and redeeming the vouchers for cash. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill says Mejia didn't merely steal from a casino, he targeted a nation of 5,000 people: The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson adds that Mejia abused the public's trust.

Said Olson, “I commend the cooperative work of Fort Hall Tribal Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

U.S. Attorney’s office collects 10 times its budget in fines, forfeitures, debts

Idaho's U.S. Attorney's office has set a record by collecting more than $84 million in fines, restitution, civil debt and criminal forefeitures in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That includes $3.2 million from criminal fines, assessments and restitution; $79.4 million in civil debts, and $1.7 million in asset forefeitures. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson noted that the total is more than 10 times her office's annual budget. A big chunk of the collections came from Hecla Mining pursuant to a settlement involving the Bunker Hill Superfund site in the Coeur d’Alene Basin. Click below for the U.S. Attorney's full announcement.

21 indicted on drug, gun charges in ‘Aryan Knights’ gang investigation

A federal grand jury in Boise has indicted 21 people in a major methamphetamine distribution and firearms investigation focused on the “Aryan Knights” gang, which authorities say is active both in and outside of prison. “Methamphetamine trafficking is Idaho's most serious drug crime,” said U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson. “The involvement of known gang members and the presence of firearms pose significant danger to our communities.”

The indictments come as a result of a joint federal, state and local law enforcement effort involving the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasure Valley Metro Violent Crime Task Force and more. Five of the defendants were arrested earlier today; 12 already were in custody and there are outstanding warrants for the remaining four. Most are from Boise; there also are two from Twin Falls, one from Pocatello, one from Ogden, Utah and one from California. You can read the full announcement here from the U.S. Attorney's office.

Big drug raids target ‘spice’ sellers, marijuana growers in cornfield

Idaho has seen two major drug raids in the last 24 hours, as federal authorities raided 11 locations in Twin Falls County in a crackdown on selling “spice,” or synthetic marijuana; and Idaho State Police detectives, along with aerial support, raided 12 marijuana grow sites in a Gooding County cornfield, pulling 3,684 marijuana plants that ISP said have an estimated street value of more than $7 million.

The ISP received an anonymous tip last night, prompting the cornfield raid; they're asking anyone with information to call  a tip hotline at (800) 524-7277.

The spice raids, which were preceded by five indictments for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance analogue, were part of a nationwide spice crackdown and targeted businesses including a Twin Falls auto sales lot, a skate shop, a tattoo and body piercing shop and more. The defendants, if convicted, could face up to 20 years in prison. Click below for a full announcement from Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson; the raid is part of a national push that earlier targeted 13 head shops in the Treasure Valley, in which nine were found to be openly selling spice.

Said Olson, “This week's law enforcement actions should send a strong message that if you're selling spice under any name or packaging you need to stop.”

Federal agents raid headshops across Treasure Valley, find Spice sales, charge owners

After a multi-year investigation, federal agents yesterday raided more than a dozen head shops across the Treasure Valley, and arrested the owners and operators on charges including conspiracy to sell and offering to sell drug paraphernalia; nine of the 13 were found to be openly selling “Spice,” or synthetic marijuana, which Idaho lawmakers outlawed last year. U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said, “The United State's Attorney's Office and its federal, state and local law enforcement partners will attack drug trafficking on all fronts.”

Sixteen people have been indicted, and at least 14 of them arrested. Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson said, “This investigation and the execution of these search warrants should send a strong message that if you're selling Spice under any name or packaging, you need to stop.” Matthew Barnes, federal Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in chage, said, “Criminal organizations that masquerade as legitimate storefronts to sell drug paraphernalia to our children will not be tolerated.” You can read the full announcement here from the U.S. Attorney's office about “Operation Headshop - Not for Human Consumption.”

Meth kingpin gets 20 years; it’s a 32-year-old woman from Homedale

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A woman accused of leading a drug-peddling gang that brought methamphetamine into Idaho by the pound will spend 20 years in a federal prison. Amanda Smith of Homedale was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Boise. Prosecutors say the 32-year-old Smith sold 100 percent-pure methamphetamine to Norteno gang members, stashed the proceeds in out-of-state accounts and directed people to cross into Nevada and return to Idaho with their illicit cargo. Prosecutors say Smith once helped kidnap a drug customer at gunpoint, to make sure a payment for a drug deal was made. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson said there's been an alarming spike in high-potency methamphetamine coming from California, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. Three others in Smith's drug ring previously received sentences of up to 16 years behind bars.

Two Idaho tribes get U.S. Justice Dept. grants for law enforcement, safety

The U.S. Justice Department has awarded $1.9 million in grants to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho to “enhance law enforcement practices and sustain crime prevention and intervention efforts.” The grants are for eight specific aims: Public safety and community policing; methamphetamine enforcement; justice systems relating to alcohol and substance abuse; corrections and correctional alternatives; programs targeting violence against women; programs targeting elder abuse; juvenile justice; and tribal youth programs. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson, who announced the grants today, said, “I am pleased to see such significant federal grant support to these two Idaho tribes. The U.S. Attorney's office is committed to working closely with and supporting public safety in Indian country.” You can read the full announcement here.

Idaho tribes look to federalize their police to bridge jurisdiction gaps

Federal authorities say jurisdictional gaps are hampering law enforcement in Indian country, so they're working with three Idaho tribes, including the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, to federalize tribal police officers and let them issue federal citations to non-Indians on the reservation for certain minor offenses. Once the lengthy process is completed - likely in time for next summer's boating season - non-tribal members who are boating on the southern third of Lake Coeur d'Alene and violate boating laws could get tickets issued by tribal officers and backed by the federal court. The southern third of the lake belongs to the tribe; the U.S. Supreme Court decided that in 2001.

The other two tribes working with the U.S. Attorney's office and the federal courts to federalize their officers are the Nez Perce and the Shoshoshone-Bannocks; you can read my full story here.

Seized assets from CdA drug trafficker boost ISP, CdA Police 7 years later

Robert Mertens is serving a 37-year term in federal prison for drug trafficking, firearms violations and money laundering - he's been behind bars since 2004 - but it's taken until now for all appeals and asset forfeiture proceedings in the case to be completed. As a result, today the Idaho State Police got a check for $456,446, and the Coeur d'Alene Police Department will get one for $18,630.

“The investigation, prosecution and conviction of Robert Mertens was a success on many levels,” said U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy J. Olson. “A drug trafficker who was harming Idahoans was removed from the community and received a lengthy prison sentence; through the financial investigation and forfeiture proceedings he was stripped of his ill-gotten gains, and through today's equitable sharing of the proceeds of the forfeiture, we are able to financially reimburse and reinvigorate our state and local law enforcement partners. I am very proud of the patience and cooperation that all of the involved agencies displayed throughout this process.”

Mertens was convicted of 11 federal counts including conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, distribution of cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute heroin; a federal jury found that from 1995 to 2003, he regularly sold drugs from his Coeur d'Alene business, Northwest Coin & Jewelry, his homes in Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint, and a flea market in Sagle. Among the assets seized in the case were $1.2 million in gold and silver coins and precious metals; those were taken by armored truck to Southern California and auctioned off by federal authorities as part of the asset forfeiture process, drawing interest from collectors around the world.

For the ISP, which is facing a big budget crunch, the long-awaited payment will be enough to replace aging radios for its investigations division; the current system is more than 20 years old. “It'll be extremely helpful,” said Col. Jerry Russell, ISP director. Still awaiting funding: radio replacements for the patrol division, which would cost $2.3 million, and for which there's still no funding source. But Russell said getting the investigations radios is “certainly a good start,” and said, “It couldn't come at a better time.”

Olson and Russell joined officials from the FBI and the IRS at a ceremony today to present the money to ISP. “This is yet another shining example of the quality investigations conducted by joint efforts of local, state, and federal agencies,” Russell said. “Due to the collaboration with our local and federal partners we were able to dismantle a long-term narcotics trafficking organization and make a positive impact to the citizens of these communities.”

Other states still waiting for U.S. Attorney confirmations

It may seem like it’s taken an awfully long time for the process to go through of appointing Idaho’s new U.S. Attorney - after all, the Obama Administration has been in office for a year and a half. But Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who watches federal appointments and confirmations, said the confirmation of Wendy Olson as Idaho’s U.S. Attorney actually “moved pretty quickly.” Olson was among an array of nominees confirmed by the Senate today after various holds were lifted. “I think she was one of four U.S. attorneys,” Tobias said; she was confirmed on a voice vote. “There haven’t been reasons to hold them up, and I think very few of them if any have been controversial. … It just takes a while to get through the White House.” So far, Tobias said, only about half of the 93 U.S. attorneys across the nation are Obama appointees, “so he still has a number to go. So all in all, she moved fairly quickly.”

Senate confirms Olson as U.S. Attorney

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Wendy Olson as Idaho’s new U.S. Attorney, replacing current U.S. Attorney Tom Moss, who has served since 2001. Olson was recommended by Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick and nominated by the White House in March; her confirmation was applauded today by Idaho’s entire congressional delegation. Click below to read their joint press release.

Olson won quick, unanimous approval

When the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the confirmation of Wendy Olson to be Idaho’s next U.S. Attorney today, the approval came quickly on a voice vote. “There had been lengthy debate about a judicial nomination earlier in the meeting, but there was no debate on Ms. Olson’s nomination,” said Erica Chabot, press secretary for committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.  Added Chabot, “We hope the Senate will move quickly to confirm the nomination, but do not know yet when that will occur.”

President Obama nominated Olson for the post on March 10; Idaho’s entire congressional delegation enthusiastically backed the nomination and pledged to shepherd it to confirmation. Minnick called Olson “an excellent lawyer with a distinguished record of service and legal experience.” Said Sen. Mike Crapo, “She knows Idaho and the law.” Sen. Jim Risch called her “an excellent choice.”

Senate Judiciary Committee confirms Wendy Olson as U.S. Attorney for Idaho

A legal news site is reporting that Wendy Olson has been confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee as Idaho’s new U.S. Attorney. Olson, the current senior litigation counsel for Idaho’s U.S. Attorney’s office, has worked there since 1997 and played a key role in the successful death penalty prosecution of North Idaho multiple murderer Joseph Duncan, among many other cases. She’s a Pocatello native, a graduate of Drake University with a law degree from Stanford, and a board member of Idaho Women Lawyers. A federal criminal prosecutor throughout her career, she’s also taught at George Washington University law school, served as president of the Treasure Valley Tennis Association, and been an active volunteer for Little League, youth soccer and youth basketball. Olson’s nomination was recommended to President Obama by Idaho’s senior Democratic elected official, Congressman Walt Minnick. If confirmed by the full Senate, she succeeds current U.S. Attorney Tom Moss, who has served since 2001.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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