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.
The man was arrested and charged for possessing marijuana, but Box said the case was dismissed on Friday because "more than likely it was an illegal arrest" since the person who made the stop was not a certified law-enforcement officer.
Box said he thinks Hicks' intentions for the program were good.
"But the bottom line is there is an appearance of something wrong here because someone making the stop, or associated with making the stop, is going to profit," he said. "Desert Snow, under contract, would benefit personally from the amount of the seizure."
According to a story by The Oklahoman on Sunday, the program also has drawn the ire of Special Judge David A. Stephens of Caddo County.
The judge expressed shock after learning that the owner of Desert Snow pulled over a driver and questioned her even though he was not a state-certified law enforcement officer. Hicks' office dismissed that case July 2 after a hearing in Stephens' court.
This story was provided by The Duncan Banner in Duncan, Okla.