Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, and law enforcement personnel are taking major steps to address drug trafficking in Central and Western Virginia.

In a speech last month on the House floor, Riggleman urged Congress to designate Nelson County and the region as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which would allow area law enforcement access to a variety of resources.

Riggleman said his home county of Nelson has been hit hard by drug trafficking and that the effects have been far-reaching and long-lasting.

The Skyline Drive corridor has become the center of drug trafficking activity that is ravaging the 5th District, Riggleman said, which led to the creation of the Skyline Drug Task Force in 2016.

“This counter-drug team has carried out searches and made arrests, including of an individual suspected to be a high-level member of a Mexican drug trafficking organization or cartel, who had, according to the judge, caused unfathomable damage to the community,” Riggleman said in his speech.

The HIDTA program currently operates in all 50 states and in 18 regions within the Washington/Baltimore area.

The grant program is administered by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. As of 2017, there were 28 HIDTAs, which include approximately 18% of all counties in the United States and 66% of the U.S. population.

The process to be designated as a HIDTA is fairly involved, according to Tom Carr, executive director of the Washington/Baltimore-area HIDTA.

Petitioners must put together a set of separate requests for each locality seeking the designation that includes an assessment of the threat. Because HIDTA is a federal program, the petitioners must establish how drug trafficking is also affecting other states and by showing involvement from gangs, such as MS-13.

After the petition has been put together, it needs to be approved by an ONDCP panel of law enforcement experts. The process can take six months to a year, from start to finish, Carr said.

HIDTA designees can receive anywhere from $100,000 to $350,000 annually, Carr said, on top of a swath of equipment such as satellite trucks, surveillance equipment and analytical support.

“Believe it or not, most recipients have a difficult time spending all the money,” Carr said.

In an interview, Riggleman said he has been in contact with law enforcement officials in the area and they already have begun to put together a petition.

The U.S. 29 corridor is a particular area of concern, Riggleman said, and if the region receives HIDTA designation, the plan is to set up the office in Albemarle County.

“The price of methamphetamine has skyrocketed in the last couple decades and so has trafficking,” he said. “It’s sad, but I think we have a very good chance of getting the designation,” he said.

Work is being done already to combat drug-trafficking in the 5th District, Riggleman said, pointing to the efforts of Capt. Michael Martin of the Waynesboro Police Department and Sheriff Bob Mosier of the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Department.

Just this past week, a 45-year-old Waynesboro man was charged with a swath of trafficking-related charges and is facing at least 20 years in prison following a multijurisdictional investigation in which authorities seized more than 2 pounds of meth estimated to be valued at more than $100,000.

According to The News Virginian of Waynesboro, Martin, who operates as the WPD special operations division commander, said that though the amount of meth wasn’t as much as seen in some recent busts, it still speaks to the capacity for rings to move large amounts of drugs in the area.

“This is a significant amount for this area,” he said.

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Tyler Hammel is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7268, thammel@dailyprogress.com or @TylerHammelVA on Twitter.

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