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TRIDENT arrests five in drug sting

Tim Mutrie

Carbondale police, working in concert with a valleywide drug force and federal agents, arrested five greater-valley residents in a sting operation on Main Street in Carbondale last week.

The Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team (TRIDENT) and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency orchestrated the so-called “reverse buy” sting operation after arresting two alleged drug dealers on March 19.

Carbondale residents Blas Meraz, 43, and Anna Marie Barela, 49, were arrested by authorities after a search of their residence at 966 Main St. uncovered about 1.5 pounds of marijuana, approximately 31 grams of methamphetamines and about a half-ounce of cocaine, according to arrest affidavits.

Authorities then arranged for Meraz and Barela to continue dealing “simulated” drugs into the evening in a scheme specifically targeting users, not dealers.

After purchases transpired – involving substances substituted for the real drugs – officers, who were hidden in a back room of the residence, appeared and promptly placed the buyers under arrest. By the early hours of Saturday, March 20, the sting had netted five drug buyers. Meraz and Barela were also arrested.

“Both suspects [Meraz and Barela] confirmed that they do sell narcotics from the residence and agreed to cooperate with conducting controlled sales of narcotics from 966 Main, Carbondale,” according to the affidavits, obtained from Deputy District Attorney Rich Orman, the full-time prosecutor assigned to TRIDENT.

Orman would not say whether Meraz and Barela cooperated with authorities as part of a deal.

According to the affidavits, the scheme was executed in the following manner: “A simulated bag of cocaine and methamphetamine was packaged in the kitchen of the residence. When someone knocked on the back door of the residence [the informant] would open the door and allow the suspect inside. The suspect would ask [the informant] for narcotics at which time [the informant] would weigh out the simulated drugs.

“The suspect would pass the money to [the informant, and the informant] would hand the suspect the simulated narcotics. Officers waiting in nearby rooms would complete the arrest after the deal was complete and the suspect was leaving the house.”

Carbondale residents Todd Manzanares, 33; Steven Bamford, 37; Terry Puzick, 38; and James D’Annibale, 37, were all arrested for criminal attempt to possess cocaine as a result of the sting operation.

Cindy Sue Bartel, 41, of Silt, was arrested for criminal attempt to possess methamphetamines. Bartel was also arrested for possession of methamphetamines and possession of another illegal substance, stemming from drugs she allegedly had in her possession when she entered the residence.

Friday’s bust was the culmination of more than 20 hours of investigative work on the part of an unidentified Carbondale police officer/narcotics investigator, according to arrest affidavits.

On March 4, 5, 6 and 12, the officer conducted videotaped surveillance of the Main Street residence and during that time observed numerous “quick visits” into the house that were three-and-a-half to four minutes long, the arrest affidavit states. “All of what I observed was consistent with behavior associated with the trafficking of controlled substances,” the officer said in the affidavit.

Based on the officer’s findings, authorities obtained a search warrant for the residence on March 16. TRIDENT and Carbondale police executed the search on Friday, March 19.

Addressing “reverse buy” operations in general, and not specifically this case, Orman said, “Obviously, the primary goal of TRIDENT is to go after distributors, and it always will be, but from time to time, TRIDENT does engage in operations that target users.”

Speaking broadly about such operations, Orman said, “This kind of thing is important, because people who purchase drugs have an addiction problem, and often the only way to get people to face up to these problems is in a criminal justice setting.”

Orman said Meraz and Barela will both face multiple charges of drug possession with the intent to sell, dispense and distribute.

All of the parties arrested in connection with the sting will be formally charged in 9th Judicial District Court in Glenwood Springs on Wednesday, March 31, Orman said.


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