Local law enforcement recognized for major meth investigation

For a wide-sweeping investigation that took a big bite out of the area’s methamphetamine trade, local law enforcement was nominated for an Investigators Award from the Wisconsin Narcotics Officers Association. The nomination recognizes members of the Merrill Police Department, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department and state Division of Criminal Investigation.

The investigation, which has led to federal charges against nine individuals involved in manufacturing methamphetamine and state charges against about a dozen more, required a collaboration among multiple law enforcement agencies, said Merrill Police Department investigative lieutenant Mike Hamann.

“To pull this together was pretty phenomenal,” Hamann said.

Merrill police initiated the investigation in January 2009, using a new law that requires identification to purchase pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the manufacture of meth. By reviewing logs at pharmacies and stores that sell pseudoephedrine, police were able to note patterns and develop suspects. From an initial pool of 275 potential suspects, they were able to narrow their sights on a group of people with known associations.

The investigation reached far beyond the borders of Lincoln County as suspects appeared to be making “buying trips” to other communities. Law enforcement in Marathon County also got involved in the investigation, as a number of suspects were located in the Wausau area. The nomination for the award came from a Marathon County officer.

Several other agencies cooperated with the investigation as suspects were tracked across the state. The state Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) was also involved to assist with the case.

“It was an example of great law enforcement collaboration,” Hamann said.

The investigation culminated in the location of three meth labs in Lincoln County, two of which were in operation when law enforcement arrived.

Because of the severity of the crimes and the history of the defendants, the U.S. Attorneys office agreed to prosecute nine individuals in federal court.

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Mark Gartmann noted that the drug trade is also tied to other crimes. The investigation didn’t only cut the meth production in the area, but cut down on crime overall.

“We saw a drop in crime,” Gartmann said. “You take these guys out of the equation and you see a big impact on the community.”

Merrill Police Chief Ned Seubert commended the officers involved for undertaking a massive drug investigation with limited manpower and budget constraints.

“We had to bite the bullet, but there was a payoff at the end,” Seubert said.

Lincoln County has only one full-time drug officer, so the investigation relied on patrol officers keeping track of suspects and noticing where they went and who they were with.

“Our officers know what to look for,” said Sheriff Jeff Jaeger.

DCI Special Agent David Forsythe said he anticipates more arrests and indictments as a result of the investigation.

While receiving an award was never a thought while conducting the investigation, Forsythe said it is “nice to be appreciated for a good case.”

Sheriff Jaeger added, “For a relatively small agency to be nominated, it’s something to be proud of.”

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