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24 and counting: Drug bust takes dealers out of circulation

WILLMAR –– At last count there were 24 people arrested in a widespread drug bust this week in Willmar and surrounding communities, but authorities say there will be more.

“This will go on until everybody on this list is arrested,” said Sgt. Ross Ardoff, director of the CEE-VI Drug and Gang Task Force.

The net was cast this week when a dozen law enforcement officers from six different agencies began arresting individuals they’d been gathering evidence against since January during undercover drug purchases.

The groundwork took “hundreds of man-hours,” said Ardoff, who said he was very pleased with how the operation was carried out.

“I think it was planned very thoroughly and we didn’t have any glitches,” said Ardoff in an interview Friday.

“It’s gone excellent. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” he said.

Suspects made court appearances on Thursday and Friday on multiple felony drug charges ranging from second-degree to fifth degree sale, for selling a variety of controlled substances, including methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana and prescription medications.

Court documents are similar for all the suspects, documenting how informants provided the names of known drug dealers.

The informants, who were wired for audio recording and given cash from the CEE-VI Task Force, would then meet the dealer, make the sale and then turn the drugs over to authorities.

Oftentimes the sales took place in the middle of the day in a parking lot of a Willmar business, a side street or the home of the dealers.

The informants “did as many buys as they could,” said Ardoff, and the Task Force kept gathering the names and evidence for about six months.

“We worked our way up the food chain, as far as the drug world is concerned,” said Ardoff.

When the informants had exhausted all their contacts and “we ran out of people to buy drugs from,” authorities quickly moved to make the arrests.

Taking the action in one fell swoop will take drug dealers “out of circulation” for at least a time and will make an impact on the community, said Ardoff.

It’s also sends a strong message that selling drugs is not tolerated here, he said.

According to the criminal complaints, most of the purchases made by the informant were not large, with values ranging from $50 to $300.

Ardoff said the early catches were low- to mid-level drug dealers, but said there will be more arrests of individuals who will likely have more serious charges.

Ardoff said word has gotten out about the arrests and there are still suspects “laying low, trying to evade law enforcement.”

But Ardoff said, “We do know who they are. We will find them.”

There are gang ties with some of the suspects,

According to Ardoff the suspects include representation from at least four different gangs: Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples, Nortenos (Northerners) and Surenos (Southerners).

He said law enforcement officers prepare for a potential threat with every call they make, but he said dealing with gang members “does increase the likelihood that something might happen.”

The Task Force was assisted by the Willmar Police Department, Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office, Meeker County Sheriff’s Office, Montevideo Police Department and the Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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