Smugglers' Paradise

Guess who's winning the drug war in Cochise County?

More and more youngsters are being drawn into the booming drug business in Cochise County, and there are court records to prove it.

"The smugglers are paying kids $100 a week or so just to keep an eye on county patrol cars," says Juvenile Court Judge Steve Desens. "They don't carry drugs and they've committed no crime, and they just make a collect call into Mexico when they see something. We've probably had seven to ten American and Mexican kids who have gotten busted here since last October--I'm talking pot busts of 285, 305, 410 pounds, that sort of thing.

"As of a few years ago, I wouldn't have believed this. But now, I view the drug trafficking in Cochise County as a well-organized and finely tuned business--a merit system of economics."

COCHISE COUNTY ATTORNEY Alan Polley is trying to talk tough these days.
"I'm getting after my people," he says in an interview at his office in Bisbee. "We've been having too many plea bargains to `attempted transportation of a narcotic drug.' Too many probation terms. . . . Sometimes our people will say, `But he's just a mule. Somebody waved a few thousand dollars in front of him.' But we're not the consciences of our community. We're just prosecutors, and we have been offering plea agreements on cases that we definitely shouldn't have."
Polley is a man in search of a policy. He portrays a world in which his prosecutors often have problems in court because of inadequate police investigations. His rule of thumb has been to ask county grand juries to indict people on more serious charges than can be easily proven in court. Then his prosecutors almost inevitably plea-bargain down before trial to less serious charges.

That's a standard practice of prosecutors. But Polley apparently has decided to toss in a new wrinkle.

No more plea bargains, he says, adding, "At the point we fill up the courts with trials, we'll have no recourse but to decline cases. Until then, we either have enough to go to trial or we don't.

"When you charge, you easily can get enough `probable cause' for an indictment. You hope enough will materialize to cover the more serious charges. Sometimes, officers inflate testimony and put the case in its most favorable light, and my prosecutors have to take on this added baggage."
At this moment in the interview, however, Doug Whitney--one of Polley's prosecutors--nervously walks into his boss's office. Whitney has a problem with a dope case, he tells Polley. The Border Patrol agent in a marijuana-smuggling case couldn't properly identify any of the four defendants during a pretrial hearing.

The case was going down in flames, so Whitney had asked for a recess and offered a plea bargain to the four Mexicans: They would be eligible for probation. So much for Polley's new ban on plea bargains.

"It's all relative, and you have to adapt to each situation as it comes along," Polley says after Whitney leaves. "Until a few years ago, if the feds caught you with under fifty kilos of pot at the border, they'd often just grab the pot, maybe grab your car and send you on your way. Then they came up with Zero Tolerance [a no-mercy policy that since has faded out]."
Cynics contend that Polley wants to clog the courts with drug trials so that Cochise County will be forced to create another Superior Court division. Under that scenario, Polley would become a judge.

The county attorney is very sensitive to police criticism, especially since a public feud with BAG's Bill Townsend. Polley flat-out despises BAG.

"BAG doesn't have any legal authority," Polley says. "It's kind of like a new car dealers' association. Even the name--the Border Alliance Group--is redundant. I think the relationship between the agency heads in the county is excellent. But when you get to the level of the officers in the field--especially the BAG officers--our relationship with them could be improved a whole lot."
Cochise County Sheriff Jimmy Judd points to more than $300,000 that's gone into county coffers as a result of drug-related forfeitures stemming from BAG busts. (Some of that money is being used to hire two new prosecutors who will do nothing but drug cases; former Maricopa County attorney Tom Collins was hired two weeks ago for one of the jobs.)

BAG is under Judd's control, so he naturally defends its work.
"I hate to get into a fight with Alan, but sometimes I look up into the heavens and say, `Beverly, where are you?'" Judd says, referring to Polley's predecessor, the late Beverly Jenney. "We just aren't cooperating with each other. If Alan goes on this no-plea-bargain kick for real, it's going to cause a hell of a lot of problems. We just can't put everyone in jail."

IT WAS A MAGIC moment for BAG, Cochise County's own version of Miami Vice. BAG finally had hit the big I-told-you-so bust that would shut up its critics for a while.

Actually, it was luck that led a BAG team to a rental house southeast of Sierra Vista on June 29, 1988. The break came when the home's caretaker saw packaged bundles in a closet. The new tenant, a Guatemalan named Carlos Calderon, had moved in a few days earlier without furniture. The caretaker snitched to the BAG boys after he saw the bundles.

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