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July 24, 2013

Prosecutor halts private company's participation in drug arrests

Defense attorneys, judge express concerns about program's legality

DUNCAN, Okla. — An Oklahoma prosecutor has shut down a controversial program in which a private company helps make interstate drug busts in exchange for a portion of seized drug money, and all criminal cases stemming from the stops have been dismissed.

The move comes after defense attorneys and a local judge have raised questions about whether traffic stops and arrests by employees of Guthrie, Okla.-based Desert Snow are legal.

District Attorney Jason Hicks, whose jurisdiction includes four counties west and south of Oklahoma City, defended the program on Monday. He said Desert Snow works alongside local investigators to curb drug trafficking along Interstate 40.

Under a contract that began with Hicks' office in January, Desert Snow has trained some of the D.A.'s investigators in drug interdiction, and for payment, gets 25 percent of money seized in drug busts the company participates in while training and 10 percent of seizures made when its instructors are not present.

Hicks said the training from Desert Snow has helped investigators seize more than 100 pounds of marijuana, hundreds of pills, some cocaine and about $1.3 million in cash from drug traffickers.

But Hicks said the program is on hold for now and under a full review while he and his staff address claims — which he says are largely from defense attorneys — that the program is improper or even illegal.

"I believe I am within the boundaries of the law without question, but there have been questions of appearance of impropriety," said Hicks. "Quite frankly, if any adjustments need to be made to the program, then we're going to make the adjustments to the program and we're going to move forward."

One of the attorneys questioning the program, Irven Box of Oklahoma City, said Monday that a client of his from Colorado was pulled over by someone with the private company.

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