Elderly couple charged in a drug roundup
WILSON, Mich. - An elderly couple charged in a drug roundup on the Hannahville Potawatomi Indian Community in northern Michigan said they were entrapped by federal agents because they have never and would never sell drugs.
''We are not the drug lords they claim we are,'' said Edna Keezer, 60, of Wilson, a lifelong member of the Hannahville tribe. ''We are everyday Indians living on a reservation trying to live in peace and harmony among ourselves.''
FBI agents told each suspect to name three Natives who might sell drugs - if they wanted charges reduced or dropped, she said.
''FBI Special Agent Jay Johnston is being real underhanded - he is entrapping people,'' Keezer said. ''He wants you to give up three people so you won't go to jail.''
Keezer quoted Johnston as saying, ''It's a game of tag and you are 'it.'''
''They [state and federal agents] are putting wires on you to give up your friends and relatives. They are wiring people to entrap their relatives and whole families.
''They are only interested in people on the reservation.''
''I asked, 'Can it be off the reservation,' and Special Agent Jay Johnston said, 'No, it has to be on the reservation,''' she said, adding that it's unfair to target Natives and ignore information on white drug dealers.
However, the FBI said it was targeting a location, not race.
''At no point were we focusing on Native Americans; we were focusing on those who were buying and selling [drugs] on the Indian reservation,'' said Special Agent Sandra R. Berchtold, FBI spokesman in Detroit.
The Hannahville investigation was spearheaded by the northern Michigan division of the FBI's Safe Trails task force, a nationwide effort to stop drugs and violent crimes on American Indian reservations.
Keezer and her husband, Reed, are each charged with one federal count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The Keezers are among 20 people including 16 Natives arrested in a nine-month state and federal drug investigation into the sale of prescription painkillers, marijuana and cocaine on the Hannahville reservation located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
''I work 12 hours a day, six days a week, and we never have extra money,'' said Reed, 55, a former union carpenter who has worked as a laborer for the past two years at a new golf course being built on the reservation.
The Keezers support reservation drug probes, but say they were tricked into doing an alleged criminal act that they would not have been inclined to do if not for the well-orchestrated FBI trap.
''Life on the rez is different than society because we are more of a trusting people - we trust each other - we look out for each other,'' Edna said.
The Keezers admit they made a mistake, but said they would not have been arrested if not for being pressured to do a ''favor'' for a close friend, Peter Compo Sr., 56, of Mount Pleasant, who the FBI had flipped and told to wear a wire and record phone conversations.
Compo, reportedly a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, is charged with one federal count of distribution of marijuana and Vicodin, one federal count of distribution of Vicodin, one federal count of conspiracy to deliver marijuana and Vicodin, and one federal count of conspiracy to deliver marijuana.
Edna described what happened in their case leading up to their arrest:
''They had a friend [Compo] call up and ask us if we wanted to sell some weed for him - we said 'no.' [Compo] said, 'I have a pound of weed' and 'can you hang on to a half of pound' while he went to Menominee.
''[Compo] lured us off the reservation into the outskirts of Bark River. He handed me that weed and told me to put it underneath my sweatshirt. I went to my car and as soon as I sat down that's when the FBI and [the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team] came rushing at us with guns extended - telling me to get out of the car and put my hands on the car. Then more cars came squealing in. The FBI was hiding everywhere, even the bathrooms.
''[Compo] gave us a half a pound of weed. We had no money. No money exchanged hands whatsoever. That month I had just bought a car and paid for the insurance and new tags. We did not have any money.''
Edna believes the investigation involves federal wiretaps. FBI officials said ''no comment'' when asked about wiretaps. She said she fears retaliation for granting an exclusive interview to Indian Country Today because the FBI has the tribe ''under a microscope.'' They decided to speak out because ''we have freedom of speech,'' she said.
The Keezers said they hold no grudges against Compo because the FBI did not give him a choice.
''He still is a friend and I pray for Pete,'' Edna said. ''I think he believed ... that he could be a witness [for the prosecution].''
Citing American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks, who was involved in the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff, Edna believes it's time to end federal government jurisdiction on American Indian reservations.
''Natives need to band together and become closed reservations.''
''We need to elect [reservation] chairs with high education levels so they can think with spirit of Tecumseh - the famous Shawnee chief - so they can devise a plan to close reservations,'' she said. ''Chief Tecumseh wanted to unite all tribes.''