MIAMI TWP. - Milford High School took a high-profile step in an attempt to curb a drug problem, paying an undercover private investigator to conduct a seven-month investigation that ended Friday with 16 students arrested on charges of selling drugs.
The students - four of them 18 years old - were accused of selling marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, the stimulant Extacy and the prescription anti-seizure medication Klonopin to the female investigator who posed as a student. The drug sales took place inside the school, on school grounds and at a business nearby, but all of the transactions started as conversations at the school, said Valerie Miller, spokeswoman for the Milford Exempted Village School District. And some of the money changed hands at the school, she said.
The district paid the investigator's firm $60,000. School officials wondered whether anyone would question the expenditure, Miller said, but decided soon after the Friday morning bust that it was worth the money.
"This is strong action that the district took,'' she said. "We're being very open about it. We want the message out that we're very serious about keeping drugs out of our schools."
The undercover investigator, from a firm in Dayton, had posed as a student since August. She befriended students and attended their parties, but police emphasized she did not use the drugs.
The four 18-year-olds arrested on felony aggravated drug-trafficking charges were: Kyle Dewitt, Jackson Tubbs, Andrew McAllister and Jared Schwartz. They were jailed in Clermont County and will have hearings Monday.
Of the 12 juveniles arrested, 11 were released to their parents Friday. One was taken to the Clermont County Juvenile Detention Center. Miami Township Police were still searching Friday for a 17th student, an 18-year-old.
Police said he is being sought on felony drug-trafficking charges.
The students also face potential suspensions and expulsions, said Superintendent John Frye.
Students were led out of school in handcuffs. Friday's arrests were the most dramatic step in a broader anti-drug program that's the mission of Principal Ray Bauer. Bauer is in his second year at the school of 1,840 students. Shortly after his arrival he announced that curbing drugs would be a priority, Miller said.
"It's tough enough to be a teenager," Frye said. "We don't want them to feel the pressure of drugs on a day to day basis."
Earlier this year, students were surveyed anonymously about their experiences with drugs at the school. Miller said those results indicated "that it was a bigger problem than first thought."
Police drug dogs have found small amounts of drugs in lockers and in vehicles outside. But the response from parents and students, Miller said, was: "You just touched the tip of the iceberg."
Bauer's plan also has included experts being brought in to speak about drugs, and staff members getting training in how to spot and deal with drug issues.
While school officials were proud of the step they took Friday, they also stressed that drugs are a problem at many schools.
"I don't think this is different than what's going on at any other high school," Frye said.
Some students agreed this was a strong, necessary statement by the district to help curb drug use. Others questioned whether the investigation was entrapment. Most said they knew about drugs at the school but never imagined this would happen.
One student suggested graduating seniors could protest at the school's May 28 graduation.
"This is going to ruin some of our friends' lives," said senior Amy Smith, 18. "If these students need help, there's better ways. If a statement was trying to be made, it was made. Congratulations."
April 3, 2005 - The Cincinnati Enquirer (OH)
Milford Bust Top Secret
Investigation Was A Surprise To Most Of School Board
By Dan Klepal, Enquirer staff writer
The eight-month undercover investigation at Milford High School by a private detective, hired to pose as a student and infiltrate the school's drug scene, was so secret that school board members didn't even know of the $60,000 expenditure to the Dayton security firm that provided the detective.
Only Superintendent John Frye, who came up with the idea, and school board president Carol Ball, who gave her approval, knew of the investigation in which the detective in her 20s posed as an 18-year-old student who went to classes, took exams, and went to after-school parties without anyone - including teachers - knowing her identity.
"In order to keep this under wraps, just the board president was made aware of it," said school district spokeswoman Valerie Miller. "The superintendent had the authority for the expenditure ... without needing board approval."
The investigation culminated Friday with the arrest of 16 students on drug-trafficking charges. Twelve are juveniles.
The four 18-year-olds arrested on felony aggravated drug-trafficking charges were Kyle Dewitt, Jackson Tubbs, Andrew McAllister and Jared Schwartz. The four were jailed in Clermont County and will have hearings Monday.
Neither Frye, high school principal Ray Bauer nor Miami Township Police Chief Steven Bailey returned phone calls Saturday.
Undercover investigations with police officers or private detectives posing as high school students are rare. Milford is believed to be the first to use such a tactic locally.
Miller said the superintendent came up with the idea after reading about a similar investigation in a northern Ohio school district. It also was used at an Oklahoma high school, where a 26-year-old cop posed as a high school student. That investigation ended in March with two arrests.
Walking the halls and parking lots with dogs trained to sniff for drugs is more common in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
"We have done them three or four times since the new year at the high school and middle school," Chris Gramke, spokesman for Princeton City School District, said of the dog sweeps.
Miller said the decision to hire a private detective was made after talking with Miami Township police, who decided none of its officers could pass as a high school student. There also was concern that a local officer would be recognized.
So Frye went to North American Security Solutions Inc., which specializes in such undercover investigations. No one from the firm would return phone messages Saturday, but its Web site boasts of many high-profile clients, such as General Motors, Ford, AT&T, Boeing, Kraft Foods, BF Goodrich and Corning. The Web site says the company provides surveillance operations to uncover things like theft, time theft, personal injury fraud and offers "hostile employee observation."
The company also offers armed executive protection and surveillance to uncover drug or alcohol abuse in workplace parking lots.
Some students at the school, and one of the parents of an arrested student who didn't want her name used, said they are concerned about the tactics used during the investigation -- that some of the students arrested were caught up in drug transactions they wouldn't have participated in without the prodding of the private detective.
But Woody Breyer, an assistant prosecutor with Clermont County, said entrapment is a difficult defense to prove.
"Simply initiating the conversation isn't entrapment," Breyer said. "It would be necessary to show the defendant had no inclination to commit a crime, and that the total idea and the means to commit the crime came from law enforcement."
Many parents in the district cheered the investigation and the results.
Sandy Howdyshell, a 34-year-old Milford graduate who has an elementary school student in the district, said she was undecided on the school district's $108.6 million bond issue that will appear on ballots May 3 -- until she heard about the undercover investigation. The bonds are needed to build two new elementary schools and make improvements to other schools. It will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $120 a year.
"I think it was a brilliant idea to put an undercover cop in the high school," Howdyshell said. "This event certainly has made an impact in my eyes. Now I know I'll be voting to support Milford schools."
The drugs sold during the investigation include marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, Extacy and prescription drugs.
Spokeswoman Miller said the undercover investigation is just one part of the district's plan to deal with drug issues. The district has given students drug information seminars, along with training teachers and parents how to spot potential drug use.
Enquirer reporter Cindy Kranz contributed.
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