Crime-fighting rig came from county's war on drugs

PRESCOTT — Yavapai County Sheriff's Office officials have created the ultimate irony: a vehicle it seized because of a crime has become one of its most touted crime-fighting weapons.

The Sheriff's Office unveiled its new Mobile Command Post Tuesday in Prescott.

The RV itself was a vehicle the Prescott Area Narcotics Task Force seized in January 1999.

The 1993 28-foot Fleetwood "Bounder" motor home carried a cargo of 715 pounds of marijuana on Jan. 21, 1999, when Department of Public Safety officers stopped it north of the Sedona exit on Interstate 17.

Sgt. Kelly Kasun said the agency averages 10 seized vehicles a year through drug stops. The agency has to prove the drug traffickers were using the vehicle to transport drugs, or the vehicle's purchase came from drug proceeds, in order to take possession of it.

Tom Stoxen, of the Yavapai County Attorney's Office, said since July 1999, Yavapai County has seized more than 25 vehicles.

The seizure process is separate from the criminal process. It's a civil case, Kasun said.

If officials can prove by a preponderance of evidence that the traffickers bought it with drug money or used it to transport or distribute drugs, they can seize it, no matter what happens in the criminal case of the drug traffickers, he said.

"Most of the cases go uncontested," Kasun said.

Kasun said agencies can come to the PANT board and apply for the vehicles it seizes. If they make their case for a detective car, a drug abuse resistance education vehicle, or another use, PANT provides it.

PANT uses other vehicles for undercover surveillance. It sells the rest and puts the proceeds into its anti-racketeering fund.

That money goes to task force operations, and some goes back to the participating agencies.

In this case, Sheriff Buck Buchanan noted, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office put in for the Fleetwood "Bounder," noting that the finished command post will be available to agencies all over Northern Arizona.

And the sheriff's office used part of its anti-racketeering money to equip the command post, he said.