Surrounded by airplanes and sports cars that once belonged to drug dealers, federal and state officials said Wednesday they are fighting drug abuse with the enemy's own weapons.
U.S. Attorney Brent Ward said the airplanes, cars and more than $500,000 in cash were confiscated during 10 recent drug-related arrests - most resulting from routine traffic stops along I-70 and I-15. All will now be used in one way or another to catch more criminals."We have here behind us the fruits of crimes," Ward said during a news conference at the state Division of Aeronautics hangar at Salt Lake International Airport. Behind him sat two planes - a twin-engine Baron and a single-engine Cessna - and three cars - a Mercedes-Benz, a Nissan and a black Porsche that Ward has labeled "the Darth Vader car."
"I call it that because it symbolizes the evil in drug trafficking," he said.
Money and goods belonging to convicted drug dealers and smugglers are constantly trickling through federal agencies down to state and local leaders. Ward said officials decided to call a news conference Wednesday because a large sum of money and vehicles from 10 separate cases happened to be turned over simultaneously.
Items confiscated in drug arrests are turned over to federal authorities who then give the items to state and local officials as they submit claims.
After displaying the items Wednesday, Ward gave Gov. Norm Bangerter a check for $435,046. Bangerter immediately gave the money to John T. Nielsen, the state's public safety director.
Nielsen said law enforcement officials are both grateful and sobered by the money and vehicles.
"We don't catch all the drug traffic in the state of Utah, not by a long shot," he said. "This money should give people pause to appreciate the enormity of the drug problem."
Officials said the cars were heavily used before being confiscated and require considerable mechanical work. Some of the items will be sold and the money used to purchase more law enforcement equipment.
Ward said he takes glee in knowing state and federal agents will be using drug dealers' own equipment to catch more criminals while the dealers themselves sit in federal jails.
"When we take the toys and cash away from drug dealers, we hit them where it hurts the most - in the pocket book," he said.
Ward said he thinks cocaine traffickers are seeking routes around Utah because of the number of arrests on the state's highways.
In addition to the money given to the state, Ward presented a $20,323 check to the Emery County Sheriff's Office, an $8,345 check to West Jordan police and an $11,200 check to Salt Lake City police.