IDAHO STATE POLICE RECEIVES $456,445 FOR ROLE IN MAJOR DRUG INVESTIGATION INVOLVING ASSET FORFEITURE
The Idaho State Police was presented today with an asset forfeiture sharing check during a ceremony at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boise. The check was a result of a major drug investigation involving the Idaho State Police (ISP), the Coeur d’Alene Police Department and other federal agencies. Law enforcement agencies participating in the ceremony included the U.S. Attorney's Office, IRS Criminal Investigation and the Idaho State Police. The Coeur d’Alene Police Department will receive a check for $18,630, for its share of the forfeiture proceeds.
Lilia Ruiz, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation, presented ISP Colonel G. Jerry Russell with a $456,445 check for ISP’s role in the Robert Mertens drug investigation, which included asset forfeiture. Robert Leon Mertens was found guilty at trial of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, heroin and marijuana in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, Idaho, as well as other various locations. Mertens used his business, Northwest Coin and Jewelry, to launder his drug proceeds.
The Mertens investigation began in mid 2002 and continued through the early part of 2003 when Mertens and others were indicted for drug and firearms violations. The arrest of Mertens occurred in April 2003, and was timed to coincide with the execution of financial search warrants on Northwest Coin and Jewelry and Mertens' two residences, one in Coeur d'Alene and the other in Sandpoint. Seized pursuant to the search warrants were financial records, real estate, coins, gold bullion, silver bullion, antiques, various handguns and other firearms. Mertens and three others were subsequently charged in July 2003 with money laundering and additional drug trafficking violations. Mertens was found guilty following a twelve-day trial in September 2004. In December 2004, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge sentenced Mertens to 444 months (37 years) in federal prison.
“The investigation, prosecution and conviction of Robert Mertens was a success on many levels,” said United States Attorney Wendy J. Olson. “A drug trafficker who was harming Idahoans was removed from the community and received a lengthy prison sentence; through the financial investigation and forfeiture proceedings he was stripped of his ill-gotten gains, and through today's equitable sharing of the proceeds of the forfeiture, we are able to financially reimburse and reinvigorate our state and local law enforcement partners. I am very proud of the patience and cooperation that all of the involved agencies displayed throughout this process.”
“This is yet another shining example of the quality investigations conducted by joint efforts of local, state, and federal agencies,” said Col. Russell. “Due to the collaboration with our local and federal partners we were able to dismantle a long-term narcotics trafficking organization and make a positive impact to the citizens of these communities.”
“We each bring our unique expertise to the war on drugs in order to achieve a common goal, which is to protect our neighborhoods by putting drug dealers in jail and getting drugs off the street,” said Sean Sowards, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation. “The success of this investigation was due in large part to the efforts of the Idaho State Police and the Coeur d'Alene Police Department.”
Under federal law, property involved in various crimes, including drug cultivation, may be seized and forfeited. In this case, the IRS was the seizing agency. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed the forfeiture actions in federal court in Boise. As a result of Mertens' conviction, the court ordered the forfeiture of two properties, personal property and other assets. The asset forfeiture funds are distributed to agencies involved in the investigation for programs that aid law enforcement in apprehending criminals and for youth drug prevention programs.
Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a collaborative effort by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and communities to prevent and deter gun violence.