By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
When the Nevada Highway Patrol stopped Sheryl for driving 95 mph two years ago, in her bright red Mitsubishi Eclipse, they found gambling chips, several hundred dollars in cash, two guns and a $10,000 cashier's check. The car was a few months old, and it was paid off. Sheryl claimed she was on her way back home to Bullhead City after a spur-of-the-moment gambling junket to Reno with her boyfriend, Milton.
But the good-looking blonde and the beefy construction worker matched every picture in the highway patrol's textbook on drug dealers.
To Nevada trooper Glenn Rector, it was a clear choice: Search the car. He found, he says, marijuana, cocaine, speed, hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia. He quickly hauled the couple to jail.
The two spent five days locked up in Beatty, Nevada, 112 miles north of Las Vegas on U.S. Highway 95. Their bail was set at $40,000 each. Under drug-forfeiture laws, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles and Public Safety seized their car and everything in it. Whether Sheryl and Milton were actually drug dealers didn't matter to Roger Imboden, an investigator with the Nevada Division of Investigations, Nevada's drug team. He singled them out as candidates to work for the narcs. Sheryl remembers Imboden's first pitch. "He said, 'Do you know any murderers, rapists, child molesters, drug dealers?' . . . He scared me enough until I said, 'Well, my neighbor, I think, deals pot.'" With those words, Sheryl and Milton began nearly two years as confidential informants for the police. Better-known as snitches, informants are considered a form of life lower than repo men, hated by the criminals they bust and treated like dogs by the cops they work for. But without them, there would be no drug war. Some police estimate informants play a role in 75 percent of their cases. Recruiting Sheryl and Milton was easy. They had lost their car and the $10,000 check in the arrest. Their home was searched by police while they were in jail, and later hit by burglars. They were evicted for not paying their rent. They were desperate, and drug cops from the Mohave Area General Narcotics Enforcement Team--a drug task force in Mohave County known as MAGNET--fed on their desperation. Eventually, they took part in a slew of drug busts along the Colorado River, and were in on Operation Aladdin, Arizona Department of Public Safety's self-celebrated investigation of nude-nightclub owners Omar Aldabbagh and Russ Abu-Hamdieh. Sheryl danced nude at one of their nightclubs outside Bullhead City; Milton worked there, too, and bought drugs while wearing a police wire. Snitching became a way of life for "the twins"--as they were known to the police. In court case after court case, they were referred to as "reliable." Although they disliked it at first, the job did give them a sense of pride, a place to live, and friends. That is, they say, until the cops went back on their promises. So they turned on the cops, and that has set off a series of events that has led to a recall campaign against Mohave County Sheriff Joe Cook.
Both the twins' charges against police and Cook's apparent attempts to gloss them over are par for the course in Mohave County, where sleaze in law enforcement is as common as 115-degree days in the summer.
Among the more publicized cases to come out of the county include those involving former sheriff Joe Bonzelet, convicted for plotting to burn down the county jail, and Ron Weaver, former Bullhead City police chief, who's pled innocent to charges of stealing weapons from the police department. Not to mention the two Bullhead City police officers who beat up a paraplegic.
"It's the groundwater," jokes Shelby Crouch, a reporter with The Standard, a newspaper in Kingman.
For MAGNET and the Sheriff's Office, the twins have become a problem they'd just as soon forget. The prosecutor has yet to ask them to testify in a single criminal case, and it's doubtful they ever will.
The Sheriff's Office won't even talk about the charges the twins have made since hearings are still going on and lawsuits may be in the offing. And while MAGNET officers in Kingman acknowledge they know Sheryl and Milton, they refuse to say whether the two actually worked for them--even though their employment has been confirmed by the Nevada Division of Investigations and by two criminal investigators for the National Park Service, one of whom worked in MAGNET, and even though Sheryl and Milton still have the confidential informant contracts they signed with the Mohave County Sheriff's Office. The twins' paranoia runs deep these days. They tape every telephone call. Milton carries a gun wherever he goes. They've bounced around for months since the DPS investigation ended in May, rarely stopping for more than a few weeks in any location. Sheryl and Milton are their police names. They fear reprisal from the people they busted, the cops they worked for, and even the sheriff himself. They're probably right. But you've got to wonder what cops who border on bumbling could do to them, anyway.
@body:It's the weekend before Christmas and Sheryl and Milton are still on the run, hiding out from everyone and everything they've known for the past two years. They live in Las Vegas in the kind of apartment hotel that boasts "low weekly rates, utilities included." The cars parked outside are old, banged up, rusted. Just downstairs from where Sheryl and Milton are staying, a man is leaving a room, smiling. In the doorway is a woman wearing only a button-down shirt. She smiles a "come again soon" look and closes the door. WarGames is on TV in the twins' cramped, $129-a-week room. The two lie on a bed--other than a chair, it is the only place to sit. The room's walls are plywood and there's a makeshift kitchen in the corner. The bed sags in the middle. The two have come to Vegas, they say, to "settle down" and get "real jobs." Since they were arrested in January of 1991, they've shuffled from cheap motel to cheap motel, from mobile home to mobile home. They've lived in their car, slept in a storage facility and camped in a tent in the desert. They've lived in Bullhead City, Laughlin, Page, Needles, even Oregon. Even though they've been burned by the cops repeatedly, they continue to take undercover jobs. Their most recent one ended just last month.