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August 13, 2014 10:00 PM

Spike In Felony Drug Busts At Rally Worries Prosecutors

Rapid City, SD

Drug arrests were up this year at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, with a particular spike in the number of more serious felony arrests.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo went over the numbers this week following the Sturgis rally.

And they didn't like what they saw.

Misdemeanor drug arrests - mostly involving smaller amounts of marijuana or drug paraphernalia - were up from 219 during the 2013 rally to 252 this year in the Sturgis and Rapid City districts.

But it was the felony drug arrests that really caused concern to Jackley and Vargo.

"We saw the numbers rise from 56 last year now to 90 felony arrests this year," Jackley said. "And pretty substantial amounts. One particular arrest involved about two pounds of methamphetamine."

Meth was the controlled substance involved in most of the felony drug arrests at this year's rally. Jackley says that's consistent with trends outside of the rally.

 "When you look overall at that number in South Dakota as well as nationally, methamphetamine numbers are on the rise," he says "we've experienced record numbers of arrest and laboratories here in South Dakota in the last year."

As the lead prosecutor in the county with the big population next door to Sturgis, Vargo deals with spillover effects of the rally. While some cases made in Pennington County go to the state, most end up in Vargo's office.

"Those largely become our responsibility," Vargo said. "Some of the cases that are larger in scope or involve subjects that are already under investiation by DCI (state Division of Criminal Investigation) the attorney general's office will hand. Most of the interdiction stops, the stops that get generated off of a traffic stop or something, those end up with us."

Vargo agrees with Jackley that the trend that is prevalent far beyond the rally is in play with drugs. He says methamphetamine and amphetamine busts in Pennington County soared from slightly less than 200 in 2010 to more than 600 in 2012.

"So when you're talking about tripling that, it's not terribly surprising to see the numbers spike at the rally as well," Vargo said. "It's all reflective, I think, of a national trend."

It's a trend that comes home to South Dakota, especially when hundreds of thousands of bikers show up. But the two prosecutors say it needs attention all year long.

"These (rally) numbers really reflect what South Dakota has been seeing and, unfortunately, appears to be continuing to see, which is why I think it's important that we continue to put the resources in law enforcement to address and proactively address some of the controlled-substances issues."

The number of vehicles seized by authorities during the rally related to drug busts in the Rapid City and Sturgis districts also went up, from nine last year to 14 this year. Cash seized in various arrests in those districts was up, too, from $13,221 last year to $25,447 this year.

Dui arrests were down slightly in the Rapid City and Sturgis districts, from 255 during the 2013 rally to 244 this year.

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