The New Boss

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Then Cindy and her boyfriend would get to work.

"Everything you need [to commit identity theft] you can get from the Internet, whether it's bank information or somebody's date of birth," Cindy says. "It's a lot easier than people think. People are afraid to give out their social security number, so we [would] try to get their date of birth. Well, it's much easier to get your birth date. And those cluster mailboxes in neighborhoods are a joke. All you need is a crowbar."

She adds, "After a while, it was a thrill just to commit the crime. I was getting off on the actual crime before I was even getting the cash to go out and buy more dope."

Now she works with law enforcement officials like Dan Drake, helping them unravel other identity-theft cases.

"I think the guy in Catch Me If You Can was a lot better than I was," she says. "And he probably wasn't all doped up, either."

The meth pipeline from Mexico ends in Phoenix at places like Rosemonte Drive, a quiet street near I-17 in north Phoenix that runs up to the gates of North Canyon High School.

Police have visited the home at 1944 East Rosemonte Drive 82 times in the past three years.

The reports detail everything from fights to burglaries, fires, trespassing, missing persons, domestic violence, shots fired, and forgery complaints.

The grass is green on Rosemonte, with the exception of Joel Bartak's house. In the front yard of the two-story home, wilted shrubs and brown patches of grass lie unkempt. The stained blinds, slightly drawn in a second-story bedroom window, appear to have melted.

The pink stucco is chipped and blotched with blue paint in some spots. Dozens of cigarette butts litter the front porch. A broken window on the side of the house is boarded up with plywood.

Since September 2000, at least 17 people have been arrested at the address, including Bartak. Police suspect that Bartak, who could not be reached for comment, is involved with the Aryan Brotherhood since he's been renting his house to white-power skinheads for the past several years.

The house saw its most illustrious bust with the meth-related arrest of Brotherhood kingpin Robert "Chicago Bob" Ryberg in July of last year.

This year alone, according to Shay, the Phoenix Drug Enforcement Bureau detective, there have been three search warrants served there for possession of meth for sale and identity theft. Police have investigated reports of stolen property, recovered a stolen vehicle, and answered an aggravated-assault call ("Joel got beat up by one of the Aryans," Shay says) -- just since January.

It's no wonder the woman who answers the door across the street from Bartak's house won't let her kids play in the front yard anymore.

"If I would've known about that house before we got here," says the woman, who doesn't want to be identified, as her two kids stand beside her behind a screen door, "we never would have moved in here."

Other neighbors, including Jannah Heisey, who's lived in the neighborhood about three years in a house about 100 feet down the block from Bartak's, echo the sentiment.

"I've certainly considered moving," Heisey says, as her 18-year-old son, Sean, plays a first-person shooter game on the home computer. "We probably will sometime in the next year.

"It's a shame, really, because this is such a beautiful neighborhood."

Heisey says she's caught a skinhead digging through her trash late at night, "probably trying to commit identity theft." That was the last time she called the cops. "Now," she says, "all the neighbors are buying paper shredders."

Those who've stayed, at least.

Heisey says that at least four homeowners on Rosemonte have sold in just the past month. Two other houses are currently for sale.

According to Shay, Bartak's been served notice that he must clean up the property and bring the building up to code. If Bartak doesn't tidy up a bit, then the county can, and will, seize the property, and shut down the meth operation on Rosemonte Drive for good, Shay says.

"You hear these people all the time say that meth isn't their problem, tweakers aren't their problem. It's a border issue, it's somebody else's issue," the cop adds. "Yeah? Well, take a look at that neighborhood. Pay a visit to Rosemonte Drive.

"If it isn't just like your neighborhood already," he warns, "it will be."

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Robert Nelson
Joe Watson