Breckenridge police chief: ‘There was a huge web of narcotic sales around the county’
December 16, 2016
Breckenridge police and Summit County Sheriff's deputies arrested and served summonses to at least 21 people on Wednesday, Dec. 14, after a two-month undercover drug investigation. The arrests targeted dealers operating out of bars and restaurants in Breckenridge, as well as in parks and on the streets. Some of the undercover buys occurred within sight of local schools.
Most of the more than 70 felony charges filed were for distribution and conspiracy, but there were also weapons, false identification and burglary charges. The most common drug seized was cocaine, and the operation also brought in methamphetamine, LSD, prescription pills and GHB, a date-rape drug.
By the end of the day Thursday, police were unable to provide names of those arrested, and the sheriff's office could not provide booking records from Wednesday.
The operation began in earnest after the August overdose death of a Breckenridge man from a cocktail of prescription medications, the third accidental overdose this year.
While investigating the August death, it became clear there were a lot of drugs floating around town, said police chief Dennis McLaughlin.
"In trying to identify who the sellers of illegal narcotics in Breckenridge were, we found out really quickly that we're not an island here," McLaughlin said. "There was a huge web of narcotic sales around the county, and we needed to put a little leverage on other jurisdictions."
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Departments across the county and as far-flung as Leadville contributed officers to the undercover work, which primarily involved controlled buys. Some of these led to immediate busts, but most were used to build cases that culminated in Wednesday's wave of arrests, McLaughlin said.
"What makes this a higher priority is that it's occurring in licensed alcohol establishments in Breckenridge — not just in someone's house, but in plain sight," said District Attorney Bruce Brown.
The investigation targeted dealers, not small-time users or addicts, he said.
Brown's office, which filed the mass charges on Wednesday, is considering referring bars and restaurants that were potentially complicit in drug dealing to state regulators, who may decide to revoke their licenses.
By skipping buy-busts in favor of building cases, the operation harkens back to the days of the Summit County Drug Task Force, which dissolved in 2009 for lack of funding.
Since then, law enforcement officials said, there haven't been the resources for this kind of extended undercover work, as taking officers off patrol and into an undercover unit strains municipal departments.
For the Breckenridge operation, however, police received funding from the Gore Range Narcotics Interdiction Team (GRANITE), a multi-jurisdictional drug unit in neighboring Eagle County. In late November, that unit arrested two men in Vail with 1.1 kilos of cocaine and raided an illegal marijuana operation.
According to officials, the county has discussed re-establishing a drug task force of its own, but funding is still a problem. The Task Force's annual budget was roughly $200,000, coming from local, county and state coffers, as well as grant money.
"I don't know if there's funding out there," said Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons. "But now that the economy is different and there's a proven need for enforcement, hopefully we can get it going again."
McLaughlin said he and his fellow chiefs will debrief the operation at their next regular meeting and decide their next moves.