Town Council Members, Police Chief Named in Drug Probe
JEROME, Ariz. (AP) _ Twenty-three people, including two Jerome Town Council members, face charges of growing, possessing or selling marijuana following their arrests in a five-month investigation, officials said.
Police Chief Ronald G. Ballatore, 43, also was charged in a warrant with hindering prosecution but was not arrested with the other 23 on Friday because he was out of state on personal business, said Sgt. Allan Schmidt of the state Department of Public Safety. No details were immediately available on the allegations against him.
Schmidt said 100 pounds of marijuana was seized during the arrests in the Yavapai County communities of Jerome, Clarkdale and Cottonwood and in Phoenix. About 450 marijuana plants previously had been seized during the investigation, he said.
Officials still were seeking two other suspects, Schmidt said, adding that one was known to be out of state but officials did not know where the other person was.
The 23 who were arrested were taken to the Yavapai County jail in Prescott, where all but two made an initial appearance before a judge. The other two, who were arrested in Phoenix, made their court appearances there before being sent to Prescott, Schmidt said.
Schmidt said it was not certain when Ballatore was expected to return to Arizona.
Jerome Town Councilman Richard J. Flagg, 49, was arrested on a warrant alleging conspiracy and two counts of sale of marijuana, Schmidt said. Town Councilwoman Anne Marie Bassett, 38, was arrested on a warrant alleging four counts of selling marijuana, he said. Flagg is a storekeeper, and Ms. Bassett has described herself as an artist, Schmidt said.
Doyle Vines, Jerome town manager, declined comment on the situation, saying, ″I don’t know what the law is in this case.″ He said the five-member Town Council would have to determine the police chief’s job status, adding that he did not know what Flagg’s and Ms. Bassett’s status on the council would be.
David Canfield, a patrolman in the three-member Jerome police department, told a reporter, ″No comment. We’re as much in the dark as you guys are right now.″
Schmidt said those arrested Friday were accused of a variety of crimes, including growing, possessing and selling marijuana. Not all of them were expected to face conspiracy charges, he said, adding that four were arrested for investigation of possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia.
Officials had planned to make the arrests next week but decided to make them Friday after receiving information that the marijuana and equipment used to grow the drug might be moved to other locations, Schmidt said.
The marijuana was primarily ″a very high-bred type of marijuana plant,″ Schmidt said. ″The area is gaining an unfortunate reputation for being a cener of high-quality marijuana. The term ‘Jerome marijuana’ is becoming more widely known in marijuana circles and people seek that type of product.″
The arrests were carried out by about 50 officers from the DPS, DEA, the Yavapai and Coconino County sheriff’s departments, and the Cottonwood and Clarkdale police departments. The Jerome police department did not participate because of the warrant against Ballatore, Schmidt said.