"Monster" drug bust in Nebraska fills busses with meth dealer suspects

(Graphic by Scott Beachler, NET)
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February 26, 2016 - 6:50am

The first of 60 suspected meth dealers appeared in federal court in Omaha Friday following their arrest in a “groundbreaking” series of police raids in western Nebraska and Colorado.

U.S. Attorney of the Nebraska District Deb Gilg talks with the media at a news conference on the regional drug investigation Friday in North Platte. (Photo by Bill Kelly, NET News) 


NET News previously reported on a series of arrests by federal and state authorities that laid the groundwork for this week's massive operation.

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The list of those arrested, including 4 on state level charges, were made public at a press conference in North Platte Friday morning. The U.S. Attorney of the Nebraska District, Deb Gilg, referred to those taken into custody as “a 'Who’s Who' of major meth dealers in western Nebraska,” likely supplied by drug cartels based in Mexico.

As of Friday afternoon, seven people were still at large.

While there are no indications of a local presence of cartel representatives, and there was no large-scale coordination of controlling regional drug trafficking, law enforcement officials involved in the investigation say the arrests succeeded in smashing individual meth dealer groups in a number of communities.

“Let’s think of it as an octopus,” Gilg said. “We cut off some tentacles.”

One investigator referred to the operation as a “monster” involving law enforcement agencies from 22 Nebraska counties, Colorado law enforcement, and federal agencies. The Omaha office of the FBI coordinated the sweep.

The day before the raids more than 100 law enforcement officers gathered in a North Platte National Guard armory for a briefing on the mass raid. Teams of local and federal officers were deployed to locations across the region and arrests began at exactly the same time to reduce the chance those being pursued would warn one another.

Colonel Bradley Rice, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, said he had “never, never seen a roundup run so smoothly.”

All arrests were made without incident. On the state’s south central border, residents of Blue Hill, in Webster County (population 915), told a reporter from NTV a local auto detailing shop was raided by FBI agents and sheriff’s deputies.

Suspects were brought to local jails for processing before being turned over to U.S. Marshalls for transport to Omaha for preliminary hearings in Federal District Court. So many individuals were arrested at least one bus had to be used to make the trip.

While spread across a nearly 200-mile-wide area, nearly a third of those charged were concentrated in the North Platte area. Several were well known to local law enforcement with many previous drug-related arrests.

The auto detailing shop in Blue Hill, Nebraska raided by the FBI this week. (Courtesy NBC Nebraska)

North Platte Police Chief Mike Swain told reporters his department began to see a growing problem with drug trafficking in the community several years ago and reached out to other agencies for assistance. Putting these suspects in jail, he said, “certainly impacted the safety of the citizens of North Platte” for the better.

Suspects have addresses in North Platte, Scottsbluff, Grand Island, Hastings, Kearney, Lexington and Gibbon.

While only a small amount of meth was found in the possession on the day of their arrest, Gilg cautioned that should not be seen as an indication of the volume of drugs these suspects are accused of moving through the region, calling it only “a snapshot on a single day.”

Over the past year investigators, using informants and confidential methods, were able to track the meth deliveries through four states as they made their way north from the Mexican production facilities into Colorado and Nebraska.

Col. Bradley Rice, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, said these arrests should be "a warning" to those dealing in drugs.   

Most of those arrested are charged with Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine, reflecting that evidence would show they are dealers of 50 grams or more when they dealt with undercover officers.

Penalties range from 5 to 40 years in prison and fines that can reach into the millions of dollars.  

“You have to understand we are talking about pounds and pounds and pounds of meth that these people were moving,” said the law enforcement officer, speaking anonymously because they did not have authorization to speak publicly.

The logistics of the operation were epic.

Sources involved in aspects of the investigation confirmed to NET News the arrests are an outgrowth of an operation nicknamed “Mexican Seafood” stretching back to 2012 when two individuals arrested for selling marijuana provided information about methamphetamine dealers in western Nebraska and northeast Colorado. A series of previous arrests stretching over the last three years brought on even more leads culminating in the police sweep this week.

That operation was reportedly run out of a ranch house south of Big Springs, Nebraska just off the intersection of Interstates 80 and 76. (See the original story from NET News)

While all of those arrested will still face trial and are presumed innocent until found guilty, Gilg estimated more than 90 percent of the drug cases originating from a federal grand jury in the Omaha District have ended in guilty verdicts or plea agreements.

Asked whether there will be a long-term impact on drug sales in the state, Col. Rice told reporters these arrests “should be a warning to anyone who tries to come in and take their place.”

Editor's Note:  This story was updated Friday 2/26/16 at 1:50 p.m. CT.



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