A Mexican man arrested last Thanksgiving morning near Vivian, South Dakota, driving a car stuffed with methamphetamine was sentenced this week by a federal judge in Pierre to 41 months in prison.
Heriberto Navarro Ortiz is 33 and from San Jose, Mexico, according to U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons in announcing that U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange sentenced him on Wednesday, July 31, for distributing meth.
With credit for time served and other federal prison time off, Ortiz should be out by about Thanksgiving 2021.
Ortiz is represented by Randall Turner, a federal public defender. Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Cook prosecuted Ortiz.
Ortiz’ tale tells much about the meth trade.
“Most of the meth trafficked in South Dakota and across the United States is produced by violent Mexican drug cartels and smuggled across our southern border,” Parsons said in a news release. “Federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement authorities are working together to do everything possible to stamp out this poison and hold the traffickers accountable.”
Parsons praised the state Highway Patrol for its key role in nabbing Ortiz on the holiday last November 22.
It was about 9:42 a.m., Nov. 22, 2018, at mile marker 216 on Interstate 90, about 4 miles east of the Vivian exit at U.S. Highway 83, which is 30 miles south of Fort Pierre.
A Patrol trooper stopped a silver Chevy Malibu for speeding.
The trooper “gained consent to search the car,” according to Ortiz’s factual basis statement required as part of his guilty plea in a deal with prosecutors in April.
The trooper found a package wrapped in plastic tape beneath the carpet covering a rear wheel well in the trunk. It looked like illegal drugs, so the trooper detained Ortiz and had the car towed to the state’s Department of Transportation shop in nearby Presho.
A deeper search of the car in Presho found 19 packages hidden in the car weighing a total of about 21 pounds: six packages in the wheel well, four inside the backs of the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat, and nine under the plastic cowling that covers the bottom of the windshield including the wipers.
The state Public Health Laboratory found the packages contained about 8.4 kilograms, or about 18.5 pounds, of methamphetamine.
Ortiz said he was contacted last fall by a former associate in Mexico he hadn’t seen for three years who knew Ortiz had lost his police job and needed money.
The associate, whom Ortiz knew only as “Valiii,” offered him $3,500 to take a car from California to Minnesota. Ortiz said he didn’t know just what the car contained but figured it was illegal drugs such cocaine or marijuana or something.
With expenses paid by Valiii, Ortiz flew from Guadalajara, Mexico, to Tijuana, near the California border, and crossed the border on foot on Nov. 17, 2018, meeting up with family members in the Los Angeles area. (Ortiz said he had been in the United States seven or eight times before November.)
Valiii contacted Ortiz and told him to get to Apple Valley, California and pick up the silver Malibu from someone Ortiz says he did not know.
Valiii told Ortiz to drive the car “to a certain city and send (Valiii) a picture of his location on Google Maps when he arrived. Valiii would then tell (Ortiz) what route to take to the next destination.”
Ortiz said he did not know exactly where he was going to deliver the car, that Valiii would tell him once Ortiz got there.
According to law enforcement sources, Ortiz’s story is typical: he doesn’t know much about who hired him or where he’s going or even what he’s carrying. So when he’s arrested, it’s difficult to trace back and find others behind the deal.
But it was a pretty big deal.
According to Consumer Affairs magazine online recently, using Drug Enforcement Administration information, meth at the street, or retail, level, can sell for $400 to $3,000 an ounce. That means the 18.5 pounds of meth Ortiz was moving could have been sold for as much as $900,000 retail.
Ortiz also illustrates the big trend in recent years in the meth trafficking.
Fifteen years ago, the concern about meth in the Dakotas and Minnesota was of rural “labs,” in abandoned farm homes where local dealers and users were cooking their own under dangerous conditions.
But that trend faded away and in recent years a new supply of more potent and more affordable meth made in Mexico has become the mainline supply across the United States, experts say.
An April 2018 article in the Star Tribune in Minneapolis reported that Mexican drug cartels controlling the meth trade “have hand-picked Minnesota as the regional hub for their entire Upper Midwest meth trade.”
In 2018, a man was arrested headed to Minnesota from Mexico with 152 pounds of meth in the car.
Last year, a Wisconsin man and a Pierre woman in a car carrying meth coming from Colorado headed to Minnesota were stopped at a rest area on Interstate 90 in South Dakota not far from Plankinton. During the arrest, federal agents shot the man to death. The woman, who told the Capital Journal the man had a gun and had been dealing meth, has been charged in federal court.
In the past few weeks, a Fort Pierre man and a Pierre woman appeared in federal court in Pierre after they were arrested in a car on Interstate 90 in Murdo, not far west of Vivian, with a distribution-sized amount of meth. Both pleaded not guilty. A third person in the car, a man from Pierre, was arrested and charged in state court in connection with the drugs, but his name has not shown up in federal court documents.
Meth dominates the criminal cases in Pierre and across the state, whether it’s domestic violence incidents fueled by meth or repeated addiction causing crimes such as theft, burglary and forgery, as well as drug possession and dealing cases.
But law enforcement experts say that only a small fraction of the meth crimes get to court, although court dockets are filled with them.
“Minneapolis-St. Paul has become a major market,” Kent Bailey, a former senior U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who now leads a federally funded counter-narcotics program in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, told the Star Tribune last year. “You can sit there and keep your head in the freaking sand but the sheer volume of the drugs being seized indicates otherwise.”
With credit for the time he’s sat in jail — he remains for now in the Hughes County Jail in Pierre where he’s been since November — and the 54 days off per year given in the federal system, it appears Ortiz will spend about 28 more months behind bars. He will then be on a year of supervised probation.
His cooperation included not only pleading guilty to one charge against him but also not objecting to being jailed pending sentencing.
Judge Lange ruled Ortiz did not pose a risk of using illegal drugs after he’s released that would call for regular testing.
The Pierre Elks Lodge #1953 and the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital Area teamed together to sponsor 40 youth for trips to the Badlands National Park, July 30 and July 31.
“It was awesome, magnificent. The hardest part was getting the kids to climb back onto the bus to come back to Pierre,” said Steve Wegman, Pierre Elks coordinator of the Dakota Event Expedition.
Plans had been for up to 100 youth to go. “This was an experiment on our part,” said Wegman. “It was see how do ‘helicopter’ parents allow independence of their children in a very well controlled environment. Also, each kid was to give two hours of community service before the day trips.” Forty youth, from kindergarten age through fourth grade, actually attended.
Two Forell buses headed out each day, each with 20 youth, three Boys & Girls Club staff, and three Elks volunteers. Also on board was plenty of water and snack foods. A full meal was provided, at the Wagon Wheel Grill.
After the trip, according to Wegman, a driver said he was amazed on how good the kids were, even picking up any trash they found in the park and clearing the bus of trash when they got off. “And the best part is they are just regular Pierre area kids,” said Wegman.
All the youth were sworn in by Park Rangers Brad Baker and Ed Welsh as junior park rangers. Each got badges and a little booklet of the park.
The kids did a total of 4.5 miles of hiking, as well as participated in interactive games and visited a fossil lab. They heard interpretative talks on how the Badlands were formed and continue to form, and geological difference of the Badlands and Pierre. The kids preferred the dirt trails, referring to the paved paths as “old people trails.”
“If you are a kid, the last thing you want to do is what old people do,” said Wegman. “You have to give them more of a challenge, thus a little bit more of a risk.” Wegman said some of the littler kids ended the day with their hands in the hands of some of the adults, their new friends.
This is the greenest, lushest I have ever seen the Badlands. The sweet clover was intoxicating,” said Wegman.
“The real interesting part was none of the kids wanted to get back on the bus, even after being out of their comfort zones. Great little troopers,” said Wegman. He added that the rangers told him these were the best kids they had seen all summer; attentive, inquisitive, well mannered.
The third and fifth graders shared their ideas as a whole, according to Becky Spoehr, director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital Area. Some of the comments included:
“We liked the pizza and seeing the wonderful view. The bus drivers and people (Elk’s members) who came along were very kind. We also like playing the migration game at the visitors center and seeing the cool fossils,” wrote one student.
“The view was very beautiful. I loved standing on top of the mountains and looking at the Badlands,” wrote Alexis.
“My favorite part was seeing the prairie dog. I really wanted to pet it,” wrote Jaxson.
“I really like getting to climb all the rocks and going on the new trails,” wrote Asher. “The creatures were really cool. I also really liked seeing all the fossils at the visitors center.”
“The fossils were kinda good!,” wrote Jace.
“I loved seeing all the different fossils, and it was cool to see the shoe that feel all the way down to the bottom of the Badlands,” wrote Brooks.
Though other activities will slip in, the next main kids/community event by the Elks is a pre-Halloween dress-up party in late August or early September
According to The 2018 Statewide Drug Statistics report, South Dakota is at war with drugs — particularly methamphetamines. The state’s war on meth is clearly illustrated in this report. Here’s how:
In 2018, South Dakota law enforcement saw 3,684 arrests for methamphetamine. These arrests resulted in more than 45,918 grams — more than 101 pounds — of meth being seized.
“A 101 pounds of meth is still a lot of meth,” said Tim Bormann, chief of staff with the Attorney General’s Office. He relayed that, according to most scientists, 150 milligrams of meth (1,000 milligrams makes one gram) if taken orally is enough to produce a fatal situation (could die from overdose).
Depending on the user’s age, weight, health and other factors this might not kill them, but would still create a fatal situation. If injected, the fatal situation amount of meth is 100 milligrams. Smoking 50 milligrams can cause extremely harmful, serious ramifications (more so than the usual illegal use of it).
“Like all drugs, it’s a sliding scale, and affects everyone differently,” said Bormann. “For that, there is no hard and fast science.” Bormann added that one gram of meth goes for around $80 street value.
Bormann supplied the 2018 year-ending statistics for South Dakota showing methamphetamine arrests and amounts seized. These same statistics are broken down by county. In 2018, the Pennington County (Rapid City) Task Force saw 1,220 meth arrests, with more than 11,089 grams seized. The Sioux Falls Task Force saw 1,091 arrests, with more than 9,281 grams seized.
All but six counties — Sanborn, Miner, Deuel, Hyde, Sully and Bennett — reported arrests and/or seizures.
“It is possible that they did not make a drug arrest,” said Bormann. “There are some counties that do not report, or only report partially. They could have arrests but no drugs actually recovered, because the drugs were ingested or there were not enough remains in a measurable amount, such as dust remnants in a baggy.”
Bormann pointed to Faulk County, where there was a meth lab was set-up, but it was discovered before any meth could actually be manufactured.
“The info is gathered by a combination of local and state law enforcement,” said Bormann. “The Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) then shares this with HIDTA which is the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program run under the auspices of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). South Dakota is in the Midwest Area of HIDTA, which is run from offices in Kansas City, Missouri.
For Hughes County (Pierre) there were 25 arrests and 86.361 grams of meth seized in 2018. Stanley County (Fort Pierre) reported two arrests and 3.61 grams seized. Sully and Hyde counties reported no arrests or seizures. Jones County had one arrest and 1,293 grams, and Lyman county had seven arrests and .871 grams seized.
Meth is not the only drug that law enforcement must deal with.
“There is simply a lot of drugs. You are finding heroin amounts in all numbers of counties,” said Bormann. “Fentanyl is just horrendous; it can scare a person.”
There are also prescription drugs being abused. They are misappropriated, stolen, or otherwise brought to the streets.
Bormann tells of medical facility employees who are fired and then charged with stealing drugs (in mass or pill-by-pill). The report includes a very long list of prescription drugs seized in drug arrests. “All of these drugs have a street value. If they are out there, there is a market,” he said. Drugs can be stolen through big burglaries, or visitors taking unnoticed quantities. He tells of incidents where older people report some of their medication pills are missing, and they wonder if they over-used them without realizing it, lost them, or if someone took them.
“An arrest would not be made if something is reported, but an investigation would ensue. Authorities would not arrest anyone without evidence or trail of evidence of someone having done something,” said Bormann.
There is a multitude of ways this yearly and monthly reporting can be used,” said Bormann. “We can study how things are traveling, like along the Interstate 90 and I-29 corridors. Like with Corson County; how can we partner better with tribal law enforcement in the next year. Can we add some action, or more law enforcement positions, to get this stuff off of the streets? Where are local and state partnerships effective? Are local guys having a hard time, without assistance, staying on top of things? It’s never-ending on where and how these reports can be used.”
Once a year in South Dakota a destruction order is given. All seized drugs no longer being held in evidence are transported to one of the three labs (the State Lab in Pierre, a lab in Rapid City and a lab in Sioux Falls) to be destroyed.
Repairs to the levees along the lower Missouri River below Sioux City continue but heavy rains lashed parts of eastern Kansas Wednesday night and more heavy rains are expected, said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials on Thursday, Aug. 1, during a conference call with members of Congress, local and tribal officials and other “stakeholders.”
John Leighow, chief of the readiness and contingency office for the Army Corps’ Northwest Division based in Omaha, said Phase 1 repairs — aimed at levee breaches where most people and infrastructure are at risk — is ongoing. Meanwhile, Phase 2 repairs aim at longterm “full” repairs. Of the 178 requests submitted to the Army Corps offices in Omaha and Kansas City, 63 project information reports have been approved which provide engineering and design info for the final repairs, Leighow said. The entire levee rehabilitation effort for the Missouri River Basin has been estimated to cost $1 billion, with more expenses expected as more requests for aid and damage assessments continue, he said.
But big rains remain a problem along the Lower Missouri and rivers even in South Dakota — the James and the Big Sioux — remain at flood stage, besides much of the Missouri from Nebraska City down and several tributaries in Kansas, said Kevin Low of the National Weather Service’s Missouri Basin River Forecast Center. .
“Last night we had 20 reports of rainfall in excess of 5 inches over eastern Kansas, seven reports of 7 inches or greater and one report of more than 9 inches of rain,” Low told the participants in the conference call on Thursday, according to a report from the Army Corps.
There is the threat of more heavy rains over the next 72 hours across eastern Kansas and western Missouri with rainfall totals up to 5 inches, he said.
Meanwhile, conditions are improving in the Upper Missouri River Basin, the huge area above Sioux City.
Mike Swenson of the Corps’ Missouri River Water Management Division said the Upper Missouri’s system storage had declined by about 0.4 million acre-feet (MAF) in the past week, down to 11.9 MAF stored in the six main-stem reservoirs’ exclusively-for-flood-control-zones, including Oahe.
Oahe’s elevation was at 1,617 feet above sea level, right at the bottom of the exclusive flood control zone of 3 feet at the top of the reservoir. Garrison fell six inches and Fort Peck was down 4.8 inches the past week, Swenson said.
Releases from Gavins Point Dam, often described as the open-end of the sack of system storage of the six dams above Gavins Point, will continue at 70,000 cubic feet per second into late August to keep the evacuation pace going, Swenson said. The regular annual goal of the system is to get the system dam storage down to levels for winter to prepare for the next spring’s runoff. This year provided a little surprise as runoff hit the second-highest mark on record, exceeded only by the huge flood year of 2011.
Releases from Oahe Dam seven miles north of Pierre and Fort Pierre will continue at the relatively high level of 56,500 cfs until at least Aug. 23, according to Army Corps estimates.
That high flow has meant many more dead fish found along the shores of the Missouri River in Fort Pierre and Pierre because more of the small lake herring get sucked into the dam’s turbine intakes with the higher pressure and don’t get out in good shape on the downstream side.
Oahe’s reservoir’s elevation is slated to continue slowly falling to 1,615.7 feet by Aug. 23 as the inflows into the reservoir from above also are projected to keep falling from the 51,200 cfs level on Thursday, Aug. 1, to 47,500 cfs by Aug. 23, according to the Army Corps forecast.
The big water this summer means the turbines have been really smoking and will continue to put out relatively high amounts of electrical power, near the daily average of 17,380 MWh posted on Thursday.
As of July 30, the whole six-dam system was storing 68.1 MAF, not far from the max-out level of 72.2 MAF that was exceeded in the record flood year of 2011. Right now, 12 MAF of the system’s 16.3 MAF of flood control storage is occupied, the Army Corps said; that means about 26 percent of the flood control storage in the system remains available to handle runoff, if more comes. Only slight chances of some rainfall is predicted for the next week in the Upper Missouri Basin; while the lower Basin looks to get hammered with some heavy rains.
The 50th Annual Central South Dakota 4-H Rodeo will be held at the Stanley County Fairgrounds in Fort Pierre this weekend, Saturday August 3 and Sunday August 4.
Both days will see a full rodeo program of timed events and rough stock events. 4-H competitors from across the state ages 8 — 19 will compete both days in two arenas. Youth are competing for a chance to qualify for the state 4-H Rodeo Finals event which will be held in Fort Pierre August 16-18.
Rodeo Action begins at 9 a.m. both days. There is no admission to the event. A full concession stand is available beginning with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. both days under the grandstands. On Sunday morning a non-denominational church service will be held at 8 a.m.
The event runs with a multitude of volunteer workers and multiple local business and personal sponsors. And all are invited to attend, help out or sponsor a part of the weekend’s events.
The Central South Dakota 4-H Rodeo in its 50th year was one of the first 4-H Rodeos held in the state of South Dakota.
Several Hughes and Sully counties residents began one of the first two 4-H rodeos in the state, in 1969. Some of those who started the event remain involved, but now . they are helped out by a fourth generation of family members.
This South Dakota 4-H rodeo program has grown in magnitude and is one of the premier youth rodeo programs in the country. Many of the young competitors in that first 4-H rodeo have gone on to excel in all levels of rodeo, including World Champions and NFR qualifiers Billy, Robert and Dan Etbauer; Jill Schimkat; Jake Rinehart; Ardie Maier; Thad Bothwell; Marty Jandreau; Jesse Bail; Brian Fulton; and Marty Melvin.
The SD 4-H Rodeo program is one of the largest and most successful youth development efforts in the nation. Competitors excel in and out of the arena developing animal husbandry knowledge, sportsmanship and responsibility while developing rodeo talents that earn them berths in competition opportunities and academic scholarships through high school and college. The 4-H rodeo program in South Dakota now includes 25 regional rodeos and a state championship rodeo that is held in Fort Pierre in August.
Today’s 4-H Rodeo
More than 300 youth rodeo competitors will gather at the Stanley County Fairgrounds for two action packed days of rodeo. If you look and listen closely, you will realize that many of the volunteers, rodeo personnel and contestants will be carrying on a western tradition started 50 years ago by grandparents and community leaders in Central South Dakota.
4-H is a national youth development program that focuses on youth gaining life, career and personal skills in children ages 8 to 19. Project areas range from Rodeo, all livestock areas, photography, rocketry, leadership, citizenship, community service.
South Dakota’s success in producing professional rodeo athletes is often credited to the 4-H program where youngsters get the experience, skill development, and mentoring that prepares them to compete worldwide in the sport of rodeo. Many of those young 4-H rodeo competitors go on to excel in High School, College and amateur and professional rodeo
One of the key ingredients of the 4-H rodeo program is the family and community support and mentoring. While rodeo is an individual sport the common thread is the rodeo tradition and western way of helping each other. Many of the 4-H rodeo graduates will be volunteering at the rodeo this weekend and mentoring and encouraging the youngsters that are now where they once were.