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DEA evicts state drug agents from McAlester office

Ziva Branstetter, Tulsa World, Okla. –

A dispute between two agencies has led to state drug agents being evicted from the McAlester office they shared with DEA agents for a decade and has allegedly harmed federal drug investigations, records show.

The simmering dispute between the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control and the Oklahoma bureau of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has resulted in charges of “intrinsic arrogance” and reached officials at the highest state and federal levels.

Underlying the dispute, said OBN Director Darrell Weaver, is an attempt by DEA agents in Oklahoma to create a drug task force in which OBN agents would answer to DEA supervisors.

“I’ve said all along, ‘We will work with you but we are not working for you.’ … We aren’t going to be their task force,” Weaver told the Tulsa World.

Terri Wyatt, a spokeswoman for DEA’s Dallas field division, which includes Oklahoma, said a letter written to Weaver by a DEA supervisor “speaks for itself.”

“We’re not in a fighting mode. We have the utmost respect for OBNDD, but we are trying to operate with limited resources for office space and we are trying to build a task force there” in McAlester, Wyatt said.

DEA Special Agent in Charge James Capra, based in Dallas, wrote Weaver May 17, stating that OBN agents had until June 22 to vacate the McAlester building the agencies had shared for a decade. The World received the letter and related documents from OBN and the Department of Public Safety following an Open Records Act request.

Capra outlined a plan to create a drug task force made up of officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

“As you are well aware, we have shared this plan with your officers and supervisors in McAlester on several occasions seeking your assistance and partnership and we have been advised that OBN is presently unable to support our endeavor,” Capra’s letter states.

“I will need all the space in our McAlester office to accommodate these new deputized task force officers. Unfortunately this will require the OBN officers as well as any OBN administrative personnel who are currently housed in our McAlester office to relocate.”

Weaver sent Capra an angry reply May 29. He notes the two agencies have had “a strained relationship in the past few years” but says he believed the problems were being addressed due to recent cooperative efforts.

“The letter dated May 17, 2012, from SAC James Capra severely damaged the relationship between DEA and OBN,” Weaver’s letter to Capra states. “I have never seen such an action from another law enforcement brother. I am frankly appalled by the contempt displayed by this request.”

Weaver’s letter states that DEA has “only a few personnel” stationed in the 20,000-square-foot building.

“DEA courted OBN as occupants to justify DEA being in such a large building and no personnel. … I would not treat an enemy this way more less a law enforcement brother.”

Wyatt declined to specify how many DEA personnel are stationed in the McAlester building or in Oklahoma, citing security concerns.

Weaver’s letter states that DEA’s action occurred at a particularly bad time for one OBN employee in the office, who “is fighting a courageous battle with cancer.”

“The seed DEA has sown with this behavior is incomprehensible,” his letter states in closing. “I am speechless on the intrinsic arrogance of an agency to kick a long-time law enforcement partner to the curb without the courtesy of a telephone call.

“Quite possibly these type of self-centered, arrogant actions can only be affected with the help of U.S. Senators and Congressmen,” Weaver’s letter states.

In an interview with the World, Weaver said OBN is now renting space in another McAlester office.

“It’s well worth every dime,” he said.

Records show OBN spent more than $20,000 to move to the new office, nearly all of that for furniture, and is paying monthly rent of about $3,000.

Several days after Weaver’s letter, DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Salter Jr. sent an email to Michael Thompson, Oklahoma’s commissioner of public safety. In that role, Thompson acts as a liaison between law enforcement agencies including OBN and the governor’s office.

Salter’s June 1 email states that he took over his role in Oklahoma at the first of 2012 “and my first objective was to repair relations with OBN.” Salter said he requested a meeting with Weaver “no less than four times.”

“He refused each occasion and told me because of his prior relationship with the former DEA ASAC that it would take some time before enough trust could be built,” Salter’s email states.

Weaver said Salter’s allegation that Weaver had refused a meeting “kind of made me chuckle.” He said the two men merely could not align their schedules “and I never heard from him again.”

Salter’s email states that “instances where the troops wanted to work together at the agent level were blocked and DEA McAlester agents were told by their OBN counterparts that their OBN senior management in OKC would not allow them to work with DEA.”

Salter’s email states that OBN had also removed two of its agents stationed in DEA’s Oklahoma City and Tulsa offices. He states that Weaver’s letter was “not only unprofessional but also misrepresented the truth.”

Chris West, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Thompson had little to do with the dispute, other than meeting with Salter to hear his concerns. Records show that meeting occurred June 4.

West said Thompson passed DEA’s concerns along to Gov. Mary Fallin.

Fallin’s staff did not provide comment on this story and asserted “executive privilege” over any communications between Thompson and Fallin.

Because Weaver sent a copy of his letter to DEA’s top official, Administrator Michele Leonhart, a DEA attorney in Dallas notified DEA officials in Washington, D.C., about the dispute.

An official in DEA’s Dallas office sent an email to David Dongilli, a DEA official in Washington, on June 1, records show. The email states that “Weaver pulled his 2 OBN agents (deputized TFOs)” out of DEA’s Oklahoma City and Tulsa offices.

The email states that OBN agents in McAlester “at times have undermined our cases.”

“Contrary to what Director Weaver says … these are not ‘faithful partners’ with DEA in McAlester. … Director Weaver has instructed his people not to work with DEA on various cases,” the email states.

“We believe there is a real stir now among law enforcement and political entities in Oklahoma indicating many are not happy with Director Weaver and some of his tactics,” the email states.

“Before sending this letter to Director Weaver, we talked to each U.S. attorney, various district attorneys and other influential political and law enforcement figures in Oklahoma – they are supportive of our decision in this matter.”

Weaver said the differences between DEA and OBN revolve around the priorities of each organization and how cases are prosecuted. However, OBN agents continue to work with DEA agents on investigations, including one ongoing in the Tulsa area, he said.

“Many times the goals and objectives of OBN and DEA are just simply different,” he said. “My goals are the state of Oklahoma. Their goals are different. Even through our dispute, we still to this day exchange information constantly.”

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