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Sweeping with a vengeance

Ongoing drug probe continues arrests on the Hannahville Potawatomi Indian Community

WILSON, Mich. - For the third time in three months, FBI and state drug agents are expected to swoop down on the Hannahville Potawatomi Indian Community and arrest American Indians in an ongoing drug probe that has already led to the arrest of 20 people, according to police and some of those charged.

The two prior sweeps occurred May 27 and June 25 as the FBI, assisted by state and local police, rounded up tribal members in a nine-month ongoing probe into the sale of marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs including painkillers and controlled substances - sometimes called uppers and downers.

While no federal search warrants were executed, officials said police searched at least one home using a state search warrant.

The prescription drugs involved included oxycodone (used in pain medicines, including Oxycontin), Lortab, morphine, Vicodin, alprazolam (sold as Xanax, a tranquilizer and anti-anxiety medication), and amphetamine and Adderall, stimulants used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and sometimes adults.

Of the first 20 suspects, 16 are American Indian - 13 of which live on the Hannahville reservation, said Hannahville Tribal Police Chief Robin Halfaday.

The FBI declined comment on nearly all details of the investigation referring Indian Country Today to a press release issued at a June 27 news conference in Marquette involving state, federal and local law enforcement agencies.

According to the release, ;'additional arrests are anticipated.'' ICT contacted some of the suspects and their relatives, who believe the third roundup is expected this month.

In addition to conspiracy, manufacturing, delivery, distribution, possession, and aiding and abetting allegations, the charges included selling marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school and maintaining a drug house.

One high-ranking tribal official declined to comment on how the probe was conducted because of ''mixed feelings'' about the investigation. Numerous tribal officials have relatives arrested in the sweeps.

Some drug deals occurred in Delta and Menominee counties in October and December of 2007, according to federal indictments.

The probe was led by a newly formed FBI task force - the Upper Peninsula Safe Trails Task Force - that targets drug sales on six northern Michigan Indian reservations.

While the FBI confirmed working with six reservations, agents declined to say whether there were ongoing investigations at the five others: The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Bay Mills Chippewa Indian Community, Keweenaw Bay Chippewa Indian Community, Lac Vieux Desert Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

There are 19 FBI Safe Trails task forces in the U.S. with 114 agents assigned to work in Indian country full-time, said Special Agent Sandra R. Berchtold, FBI spokesman in Detroit.

''The formation of the UPSTTF will provide a prolonged drug initiative, targeting those that are involved in illegal drug activity in Indian country,'' the press release stated.

The UPSTTF was formed nine months ago and conducted the Hannahville drug investigation along with the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team, the Hannahville Tribal Police Department, the Escanaba Department of Public Safety, the Menominee and Delta County sheriff's departments and the Michigan State Police Stephenson Post.

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FBI agents on the UPSTTF approached the Hannahville Tribal Police Department in 2007 about conducting a drug probe and asked ''who can we invite to the table'' to help with the investigation, Halfaday said.

''We invited UPSET with their [drug] experience and three or four officers from my department were asked to come to the table. We all shared our resources.''

Some of the suspects say they were entrapped, and said the probe did not involve undercover officers. Rather, as each American Indian was arrested they were told to name three other Natives if they hoped to get charges reduced or dropped.

Halfaday said his officers have been ''working here long enough that we have bits and pieces throughout the years'' about drug sales on the reservation and ''started making cases.''

The probe involved ''individual cases that led to others,'' he said, adding his department has 11 members including eight patrol officers, a school resource officer and a lieutenant.

''We were involved because it's our jurisdiction and we know the people [tribal members] better than other members of the task force,'' Halfaday said. ''The community is small enough that we know just about everybody on a first-name basis.''

Most tribal members are pleased about the arrests.

''A lot of people have thanked me about it,'' he said. ''The general public on the reservation has been waiting for this to happen. Everybody I have talked to about it was glad to see it was starting to happen.''

Native Verna Krysheski, mother-in-law of suspect Joyce Wandahsega, has been helping her son take care of the couple's children while ''Jodie'' is undergoing treatment.

Using many expletives, Krysheski said she was pleased about the drug busts and scolded her son's wife for allegedly having illegal substances around the house.

''I am a tattletale because I don't want to see that [expletive] in front of my grandchildren. I don't want drugs around them - I don't do drugs.''

Saying drugs are a problem at Hannahville, Krysheski said she hopes the drug probes continue for the safety of numerous relatives who live on the reservation.

''I don't want something to hurt my kids or my nieces and nephews.''

Experienced FBI and UPSET agents ''were able to show my guys how to investigate'' drug crimes, Halfaday said, noting that drugs on the Hannahville reservation are ''about the same level'' as other communities.

''Because it's such a small community, 20 names seem to be a lot of people.''

Calling it a ''serious blow'' to drug trafficking on the Hannahville reservation, Halfaday said the arrests will ''force drug dealers to think twice before coming out here.''

The FBI said 10 suspects face federal charges, seven were arrested on state charges and three were charged in tribal court with drug-related crimes.