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2011-03-03

Former bar manager caught in drug trafficking net

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

When law enforcement officers with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cast their net during a drug trafficking investigation in Kerrville, a local little fishy was swept up also. Speculation remains that the woman might become part of the case being built against the bigger fishes the feds appear determined to fry.
The investigation included deputies with the Bandera County Sheriff's Office, DEA agents and law enforcement officers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF). On Monday, Feb. 14, Laurie King, 41, former manager of Blue Gene's Cowboy Sports Bar, was arrested for drug possession,
charged with felony possession of less than a gram of controlled substance - aka methamphetamine.
According to BCSO Chief Deputy Richard Smith, DEA agents contacted him after King's name came up frequently on a federal Pseudoephedrine (PSE) Schedule V Transaction Log or, in law enforcement parlance, a "pseudo log." This computer database records the names of everyone purchasing products with the ingredients ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed Triple Action, Robitussin D and Nyquil D, among others.
To obtain these behind-the-counter decongestants, a purchaser must present a valid picture identification and be over 18 years of age. Additionally, only nine grams of PSE may be purchased in a 30-day period.
Typically, different pharmacies in the same chain share the stores' database while different chains do not. The law requires pharmacists to enter all information regarding the purchase of behind-the-counter decongestants in the federal "pseudo log." According to Smith, it's a tedious, time-consuming process to sift though names on the database. However, in the course of their Kerrville investigation, DEA agents came up with King's name.
After receiving the information from the feds, BCSO began its own investigation and obtained a search warrant for King's residence in Medina where they uncovered drugs and paraphernalia. Local law enforcement officers who participated in the seizure included BCSO Investigators Charlie Hicks, Mike Bolton and Danny Sanchez; Sgt. Gerald "Jerry" Johnson; Sgt. Jose Baretto; Deputy AJ Griffith; and Precinct 3 Constable Don Walters.
According to the arrest report, at 9:12 am on Feb. 14, local peace officers, along with ATF agents, converged on King's residence on Reed Road. A search of the home revealed a half-gram of meth along with smoking pipes with residue and packaging material and a .28 gauge shotgun.
Officers also served a warrant for the arrest of King's companion, Christopher Crittell, who - in a triumph of bad timing - returned to the residence almost in tandem with law enforcement personnel. After the arrests, ATF agents interviewed both King and Crittell in connection with a possible federal firearms violation. As convicted felons, they cannot possess firearms. Smith conjectured that the pair might later face federal prosecution for having the shotgun.
Later that day, officers, along with caseworkers from Child Protective Services, removed King's 8-year-old daughter from school. The child was released into the custody of her father, who lives in Flatonia, after the man passed a drug test and background check.
After discovering drugs at King's home, officers obtained a second search warrant for the bar, located at 807 Main Street in Bandera, where, Smith said, methamphetamine and marijuana was also found.
According to Smith, no evidence points to King manufacturing methamphetamine either at her residence in Medina or at her place of employment. He speculated that she might have served as a buyer or runner for meth manufacturers. "Typically, a runner supplies a cooker with the ephedrine or pseudoephedrine that's critical to the manufacturer of meth," Smith explained. "Then, if the cooker makes a 100 grams of meth, the runner might take 30 grams as their share. In turn, they cut the meth with a number of things, including baby formula and talc. That way the return on their money can be double."
Additionally, an initial investigation turned up no evidence that drugs had been routinely sold at the bar, Smith said. He added that King was immediately replaced as manager of Blue Gene's and that the bar remains open.
Smith anticipated that agents with The Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission would launch their own investigation. TABC oversees administration of any action on a liquor license, Smith said, adding, "They can revoke the license or impose a fine or apply an injunction against the bar."
In an interview, TABC Agent Oliver Johnson, who is stationed in Hondo, said his colleague Agent Miguel Campos will be in charge of the investigation regarding the drugs found at the Blue Gene's.
"We'll let the sheriff's office complete their investigation before beginning one of our own," Johnson said. "Then we'll pick up the evidence they uncovered as well as a copy of their report."
He said TABC takes very seriously the discovery of drugs at a bar that might be linked to employees.
This latest alleged incident would not be the first time the bar has run afoul of TABC rules and regulations. In March of 2009, Blue Gene's was closed for nine days because of two violations that occurred on the premises in October 2008.
The TABC website had listed a string of violations that have occurred at Blue Gene's since 2003 that have ranged from possession of an alcoholic beverage unfit for consumption and failure to post a required sign to allowing an intoxicated licensee on the premises and violations of the cash law.
In all cases, however, rather than pay imposed fines, owner Gene Allen Rhodes instead elected to have his liquor license temporarily suspended.