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Theft investigation turns into drug sting

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ALTUS, Okla. – What started out as an investigation into a string of thefts has turned into a huge drug bust.  The District 3 Drug Task Force bust hauled in 14 people, Tuesday, in Altus.

7News was there as 10 different law enforcement agencies brought the suspects into the Jackson County Jail, one after another.  What first got the task force officials' attention were all the burglaries.  When the thefts started in Greer County December, law enforcement began tracking specific people to find out if they were involved in any other crimes.  As it turns out, they were.

Task force officials say the suspects were burglarizing houses out in the county and getting away with it because nobody was around.  They would then take the stolen merchandise into Altus and trade it for drugs.

One by one Bob Carder, of the District 3 Task Force, pulled down the pictures of the suspects he had on his board.  He had no need for the pictures anymore because they had apprehended the actual people.  Carder says the suspects were dealing mainly in methamphetamine.

"Most of ours is importation of crystal methamphetamine and the majority of it's coming from south of the border," said Carder.

Carder says meth dealers will do just about anything to finance their habit.

"It increased the burglaries.  The people out here that are using the meth don't have jobs.  They have to have some way to buy it," said Carder.

That is the reason behind all of the thefts.

"They'll burglarize a house, steal their property and bring it to the dealers in town and they'll trade that $200 item for $20 worth of meth."

So it was not money these suspects are after, it was the meth.

"In nearly everything we deal with where they're breaking into houses are addiction based problems."

So that is why they were able to connect the Greer County burglaries to drugs.

"It's a never ending fight.  We fight it all the time you know.  If we didn't do these round ups and raids like this we'd never stay on top of it."

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics was in on the early-morning bust, as were the Jackson County Sheriff, Altus Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

One interesting note: the U.S. Marshals Service was there too, because they had been looking for a bank robber on probation, who they found out was living in Altus.  The task force helped them get their man so the marshals reciprocated by helping with Tuesday's bust.

Two of the drug agents had something new during the raids.  They wore brand new bullet-proof vests.  The vests were provided through the ‘Justice Assistance Grant'.  The two vests cost about $2,000 a piece.  Carder says the vests are invaluable.

"They're lifesaving.  If you get shot and you have a vest on, your chances of surviving that traumatic gunshot wound are good."

Carder says an average vest lasts about five years.  The vests his agents were using were around 14 years old.

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