GLENDIVE – Jails in the Bakken area are overbooked and law enforcement is maxed out as drug-related crime surges in Montana and North Dakota oil patch communities.
Deputies, prosecutors and local drug counselors made the case Friday for more federal help during a Glendive meeting with federal drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske and U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. All agreed that a massive influx of some 20,000 to 30,000 well-paid oilfield workers was bringing new criminal challenges to a region so rural it’s often characterized as frontier.
Heitkamp, who was North Dakota state attorney general for eight years before being elected to the U.S. Senate, said the criminal challenges aren’t necessarily from Bakken workers, but other dangerous, opportunistic criminals attracted to oilfield incomes.
Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said that in early 2012, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigators concluded that Mexican drug cartels were trafficking cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine in the Bakken area.
In one case, Mexican drug cartels are suspected of distributing roughly 145 pounds of methamphetamine, and several kilograms of cocaine and heroin in the Bakken.
State, tribal and international borders bisecting the region pose jurisdictional challenges to investigators. Many times, federal agents are the only ones with jurisdiction to cross those borders, Cotter said.
But federal agents are hard to come by, said Dawson County Sheriff Craig Anderson. Local deputies are dealing with suspects who speak Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese or Russian and no English. Simple tasks like executing a search have become difficult because with language barriers, deputies cannot always be certain consent has been given.
The people Dawson County deputies are arresting these days are not the locals that officers are used to.
“My staff will tell you they’re younger, more violent and more dangerous,” Anderson said.
Deputies investigating a methamphetamine-related murder encountered a suspect who sent his girlfriend to the opposite end of Glendive to fire off a gun and distract police so the suspect could set a car on fire and destroy evidence, Anderson said.
Bookings at the Dawson County jail have risen from 50 a day in 2008 to more than 76 a day this year, Anderson said. The county jail’s 25 beds are full and people who would normally be jailed are now turned loose. At least 15 of the 25 inmates in jail Friday were not locals, Anderson said.
Source: Billings Gazette, “Feds say Mexican drug cartels operating in Bakken oil towns” Tom Lutey, July 20, 2013.