Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Mark Hebert

Tri-Agency Task Force meeting on dangerous drugs

Nearly 50 concerned residents attend Monday night meeting in Malta


Pierre Bibbs

Tri-Agency Task Force Agent and Blaine County Sheriff's Deputy Jon Ritterbach met with Malta residents on Monday night in the Phillips County Library's conference room to talk about drug abuse in Montana.

An audience of 43 people attended a Monday meeting hosted by the Malta Boys and Girls Club which featured Tri-Agency Task Force Agent Jon Ritterbach who talked about drug use and sales in Phillips County and across the Hi-Line.

Agent Ritterbach spent the better part of 90-minutes talking about the drug use he sees on the Hi-Line, which included marijuana (and several incarnations of how THC is abused), heroin, prescription pill abuse and the drug he sees as the "drug of choice" in Phillips County, crystal meth.

"It's methamphetamine in Phillips County," Agent Ritterbach said, later stating he bases that conclusion on a number of seizures the force makes in the county.

Many in attendance at the meeting have stated in other venues (including social media) they are fed up with the amount of theft of vandalism taking place in Malta and the rest of the county and asked Agent Ritterbach what the community can do to assist law officials. Agent Ritterbach said citizens should be vigilant and make good observations of when they suspect or see crimes being committed. He said to take notes on and give a description of who, what, when and where.

"If you think you see something suspicious, report it," he said. "Text me that information ...the problem we have in Phillips County is a lack of information, somebody has to start the process."

Agent Ritterbach gave out his contact information and encouraged citizens to report information to local law enforcement (Phillips County Crime Stoppers can be contacted at 654-1234 or the Phillips County Sheriff's Office can be reached at 654-2350) or the Tri-Agency Task Force at 406-265-1192 or by Fax at 406-265-8438. The force holds investigations in Liberty, Hill, Phillips, and Blaine counties, as well as Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap Indian reservations. Agent Ritterbach said that tips on illegal activity are a great asset to law enforcement, but urged people to be patient if they don't instantly see arrests made as criminal cases can take months and sometimes years to build.

"If you don't see anything right away, please don't think that we are not working because I promise you, on some level and somehow, we are," he said. "I take all that information you give me and start compiling a file and crunching we go after the small arrests? Absolutely. Do we go after the bigger guys? We do. But it takes a little while."

Agent Ritterbach did stress that while information from citizens is important, he also stressed that obtaining the information in a legal and safe was is just as important.

Agent Ritterbach addressed the concerns of Mexican drug cartels running drugs on the Hi-Line and said that at this time, Phillips County is not a major hub for such activity. He said that Mexican cartel drug activity in Montana has decreased since oil work in the Bakken has slowed over the past few years, adding that a lot of drug trafficking the Tri-Agency Force sees is out of Seattle and Washington State, but pointed out the drugs coming into the state from the west are mostly still coming from large crystal meth labs in Mexico.

"This is some very bad juju," Agent Ritterbach said. "Mexico now has super labs and they have chemists employed for cartels that make methamphetamine as pure as humanly possible."

Another drug problem the Tri-Agency Task Force deals with is the abuse of legal, prescription drugs used illegally. He said that parents need to be watchful of their medications and keep an accurate pill count. He also said that once the medication is done being used, to dispose of it at the Phillips County Sherriff's Office so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands and get used in a non-medicinal fashion.

"Montana has a severe problem with prescription overdoses," Agent Ritterbach said.

Included in the 43 Malta residents in attendance at the Monday night meeting were Malta High School Principal Scott King, Malta City Council members Jim Sintler and Bonnie Wiederrick, County Nurse Jenny Tollefson, Phillips County Justice of the Peace Gayle Stahl, Phillips County Hospital CEO Ward VanWichen and Phillips County Coalition for Healthy Choices' Carol Smith.


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