Claiming that it’s still pursuing arrests in Aspen for alleged cocaine dealing, the Drug Enforcement Administration has refused to disclose expenditures related to the investigation that led to the apprehension of six locals last year.
The Aspen Daily News filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last July with the DEA, two months after six area residents were arrested for allegedly being part of a Los Angeles-to-Aspen drug ring that streamlined kilos of cocaine to the upper Roaring Fork Valley.
The July 15 request asked the federal agency to provide all documents and information that tracks taxpayer dollars spent by the DEA concerning the Aspen drug ring investigation from January 2010 to the present day. The request asked for expenses on accommodations, meals, travel and other costs associated with the investigation in Aspen.
Two weeks later, officials with the U.S. Department of Justice informed the Daily News that because of a backlog of requests and that “unusual circumstances” applied to the Daily News’ query, it would take six months to provide the information. The federal agency said the unusual circumstances were that the information would have to be retrieved from DEA field offices or third-party sites.
In a certified letter dated March 5, the DEA through the Department of Justice informed the Daily News that the information is part of “an active ongoing investigation,” and a detailed account of financial information could possibly identify individuals involved in the probe.
The DEA’s FOIA/records management section withheld 66 pages but did provide one page of dollar amounts, including one line with the number $75,043. Officials wouldn’t say what the numbers refer to (see scanned copy opposite).
Jim Schrant, resident agent in charge of the DEA’s Grand Junction office, said he couldn’t provide any clarity to the expenditure amounts.
“These are going to be the numbers that we’re obligated to provide,” Schrant said. Disclosing anything more, due to the confidential and sensitive nature of the information, would compromise the investigation and the techniques employed by the DEA, he said.
Schrant confirmed that the investigation in Aspen is ongoing and the DEA is “looking into additional arrests.” The latest arrest in the investigation was of former Aspen resident Montgomery Chitty, 60, on Feb. 13 in the Florida Keys after a grand jury handed down a separate indictment related to the same year-long investigation into the drug ring.
Last May, six upper-valley residents were arrested by the DEA after a grand jury in Denver on April 19 indicted 10 people, four of whom were in L.A. The Aspen-area defendants have made plea deals with prosecutors, except for one woman who had the charges against her dropped. Chitty has pleaded not guilty and his case is winding its way through the judicial system.
An agent at the DEA’s Washington, D.C.-based FOIA division said last week that because the investigation is ongoing, most information is kept from the public. She wouldn’t elaborate on what the cryptic dollar amounts hand-written on the only released document mean or what they represent.
“At this juncture, that is all the information we can release,” she said. “Once the investigation is complete and the case is closed, more information will be provided.”