By Anabelle Garay Associated Press Writer
Published: Aug 30, 2003
PHOENIX (AP) - Twenty-three residents of the Navajo Reservation were arrested and charged with bootlegging and drug dealing after a two-month undercover investigation by federal and tribal authorities, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
The probe is part of "Operation Bootleg," an initiative designed to combat unlawful liquor sales on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Officials believe curbing access to alcohol will curtail the reservation's high crime rate.
"The return that we see from our efforts in this area is a safer community because we're attacking the underlying cause to a crime of violence," U.S. Attorney Paul K. Charlton said Friday after announcing the arrests in Window Rock, the Navajo Nation capital.
Eighteen people were charged with unlawfully dispensing intoxicating liquor; five others were arrested on drug charges and probation violations.
Bootlegging is a misdemeanor offense and probation is usually given on a first conviction. Second-time offenders are typically sentenced to a year in prison.
Alcohol sales have long been banned on the reservation. Yet most of the violent crimes investigated by the FBI on the Navajo Reservation involve assailants under the influence of alcohol, studies by the U.S. Attorney's Office show.
"I believe targeting bootleggers will reduce the cycle of violence bootlegging brings to the Navajo Nation from domestic violence to sexual abuse to murder," said Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr.
Shirley's 29-year-old daughter was killed by a drunken driver on Nov. 24, 2001.
In October 2002, a retired California dentist and his traveling companion were killed in a drunken-driving crash. Larry Wilson was sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison after his blood-alcohol content was found to be 0.392. The legal limit in Arizona is 0.08.
Another alcohol-related crime was an August 2001 carjacking and double murder. When sentenced to life in prison, Gregory Nakai blamed his actions on alcoholism.
"The result doesn't just touch on the usual domestic violence. Now we're seeing very violent crimes," said Deana Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Navajo president. "We're seeing Navajos killing Navajos as a result of alcohol consumption. All as a result of purchasing from bootleggers."