DEA focuses on Aspen’s ‘drug problem’ |

DEA focuses on Aspen’s ‘drug problem’

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” In its announcement Wednesday that a local man had been arrested on suspicion of heroin distribution, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) singled out Aspen for having a drug problem.

“For years a small but vocal group of Aspen residents have argued that drug enforcement ” and particularly DEA ” is not welcome in their city,” Jeffrey D. Sweetin, who runs the Denver branch of the DEA, said in a prepared statement. “Time after time they have said there is no drug problem here.

“But, as this tragedy demonstrates, drug distribution and abuse are present in Aspen. And as long as they are, DEA and our willing partners will continue to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers wherever they operate ” including Aspen, Colorado.”

The tragedy Sweetin referred to was the March 23 death of Aspen resident Adam Peterson from a heroin overdose. Aspen resident Ryan Welgos, 30, is accused of providing Peterson with the heroin that led to the overdose, an affidavit alleges. He was arrested last week in Silverthorne.

Sweetin is no stranger to Aspen, having attended a town meeting in January 2006, following a DEA drug raid a month earlier through two downtown restaurants. The implications of the raid, conducted during the middle of the day, drove a wedge through the community: Some felt it was long overdue and sent a message. Others reasoned it was heavy-handed and unnecessary.

In any case, in an interview Wednesday, Sweetin said he left that meeting feeling there’s no reason to have another one.

The DEA did not work with Aspen or Pitkin County law enforcement during its recent undercover work, which began in Aspen when a DEA agent met with Welgos, according to an arrest affidavit. The affidavit yielded no evidence that any covert purchases of heroin were made in Aspen.

“From a political standpoint I’m reluctant to ask Aspen for any help,” Sweetin said. “Why would I want to drag the sheriff or the police chief through another meeting? It’s easier for them to say the DEA did not tell them [about the investigation].”

Sheriff Bob Braudis does not allow his officers to do undercover work, and city code prohibits Aspen police officers from undercover work. The DEA, however, is not bound to rules set by the local agencies.

“It’s important that Aspen’s citizens realize that we do have a cooperative relationship with the city of Aspen and Pitkin County,” Sweetin said.

The difference in law-enforcement philosophy is especially pronounced between the DEA and Braudis. Braudis said Sweetin’s statement about Aspen in the press release “could be viewed as grandstanding.”

In reference to Sweetin’s comment, Braudis said: “There is a very large group of silent residents who believe that chemical issues are health issues. I would say the majority of Aspenites or Pitkin residents would share that philosophy.”

Braudis said Sweetin’s statement about the community’s view of the DEA was off base.

“I’ve never heard anyone in any group say that the DEA is not welcome in our city,” he said, “I’ve heard and share the philosophy that the war on drugs is pretty much a loser, and I am also aware that undercover operations is the most affective tool in their arsenal. But we don’t do it and the city department doesn’t do it for different reasons.”

The sheriff added that this long-running debate between him and the feds, now some 20 years strong, has been amicable of late.

“I don’t oppose them,” he said. “I just differ in my approach and I do believe that chemical addiction needs to be addressed in the medical arena, and I respect the loyal opposition but I never would hinder with or compromise another investigation by other agencies, unless they were violating our constitutional rights.

“And I have no intelligence that they are violating our constitutional rights.”