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8:31 PM Sat, Nov. 17th

2006 county totals: DPS nets $11.3 million in drug seizures

PRESCOTT ­ The Arizona Department of Public Safety netted $11.3 million in drug seizures in Yavapai County during 2006.

Combined efforts of Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking and the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office Special Crimes Unit to curb the drug problem in 2006 produced fewer quantities of drugs than DPS efforts.

DPS Detective G.R. Manera said drug interdiction officers seized most of the drugs on interstates 17 and 40 including 2,616 pounds of marijuana, 259 pounds of cocaine and 6.5 pounds of methamphetamine.

They also confiscated $15,000 in cash and 11 vehicles, Manera said.

Buying illicit drugs in larger quantities gives drug dealers a significant margin of profit, he said.

"That's why people do it," he said.

For example, the wholesale value of 2,616 pounds of marijuana is $915,000, Manera said. Once the marijuana hits the streets that value increases to $5.2 million, Manera said. People can buy 1 gram of meth or cocaine for $100 on the street. It means that the meth and the cocaine that the DPS confiscated in 2006 is worth $6.1 million.

Manera said the agency's drug seizures for the first two months of this year are even more impressive.

"We have tried to take a more pro-active approach Š in the last several months by getting more patrol officers involved," Manera said.

In addition, two DPS K-9 officers have rejoined the local crew and their illicit drug expertise has contributedto significant seizures in January and February. During those two months, DPS officers netted nearly $4.2 million worth of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth in addition to $32,000 in cash and seven vehicles.

A week ago, they stopped a vehicle carrying 4.5 pounds of heroin on Interstate 40.

"We are starting to see more of the other drugs, particularly cocaine," Manera said.

Manera said stiffer prison penalties that the Legislature enacted in recent months for meth dealers and traffickers may explain the increase in the popularity of heroin and cocaine.

"It appears to be a correlation but Š the drug business is strange," he said.

However, it doesn't mean that less meth is circulating on the streets of Yavapai County, said Sgt. Bill Fessler of Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking.

"I don't feel that it has made an impact on the suspects because when we ask them if they know the ramifications of dealing meth, they know the law Š and they're still dealing dope," Fessler said.

PANT officers made 331 arrests in 2006 compared to 178 in 2005. The number of search warrants increased from 45 to 58 in 2006. They seized 25 vehicles and $12,760 in cash.

However, the amount and value of drugs seized by PANT has declined by nearly half from a year before.

In 2006, PANT officers netted 30.25 pounds of marijuana, 4.1 pounds of meth, 7.5 ounces of cocaine and 8.3 grams of heroin. PANT estimates the total street value of those drugs to be about $250,000.

The 2005 seizures totaled 52.5 pounds of marijuana, 7 pounds of meth, 13.25 ounces of cocaine and 2.5 ounces of heroin. The combined street value for those drugs is about $526,000.

Fessler said these numbers do not suggest less interdiction.

"It seems we were working harder than we were last year," he said. "All of our efforts are on the dealers. We feel very pleased with what our numbers are. We had a very high number of individuals that we put into a prison."

During the past quarter of 2006, suspects that PANT arrested have received prison terms totaling nearly 140 years, Fessler said.

"We had one guy that was sentenced to 22.5 years," he said. "These are dope dealers that are not going to be in Yavapai County dealing dope."

The YCSO Special Crimes Unit arrested 172 people on drug-related charges, 43 more arrests than in 2005.

It also netted 3.4 pounds of meth, 12.2 pounds of marijuana, 841 plants of marijuana, 2.17 pounds of cocaine and 19.7 grams of mushrooms. SCU deputies also seized four vehicles and $110,061 in cash.

Contact the reporter at mburic@prescottaz.com