Home News Stories 2012 July Journey Through Indian Country, Part 5

Journey Through Indian Country, Part 5

Our series on Indian Country looks at the legal approach toward drugs on reservations.

Kenneth Gonzales card

“We have zero tolerance for drug trafficking in Indian Country,” said U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales. “We’ve made it a priority...to lower, if not eliminate, our thresholds to take these cases.”

Journey Through Indian Country
Part 5: A Zero-Tolerance Approach


The arrest of a 20-year-old Zuni woman for selling two baggies of cocaine that each contained less than one gram of the drug might be considered a minor offense in many jurisdictions—but in Indian Country, federal prosecutors are taking a different approach.

“We have zero tolerance for drug trafficking in Indian Country,” said New Mexico U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales. Because alcohol and drugs fuel serious crimes on the reservation, and because public safety is at stake, Gonzales sees the no-tolerance program as an important part of his office’s efforts to fight crime on the reservations.

Harrigan (play video)

More Than Law Enforcement

In addition to enforcing federal laws in Indian Country, the FBI provides other valuable services to communities, including support to victims.

Victim specialists in our Office for Victim Assistance are a critical part of the Bureau’s role in Indian Country, helping victims and their families obtain social services and keeping them informed about court dates and other legal proceedings as cases are investigated and go to trial.

“If we investigate a homicide and the family of the deceased needs assistance, we will call out our victim specialist,” said Special Agent Mike Harrigan, who supervises an Indian Country squad in New Mexico. “They will come out to the scene, no matter what time of day or night, get with the family, and start providing assistance on the spot. Victim specialists are able to provide funding, supplies, clothing, and information about available social services programs.”

As a case moves forward, Harrigan added, the victim specialist follows up “and will continue to contact the victim’s family to provide additional services. It’s really a partnership between investigators and victim specialists,” he explained. “Without them there to help the families, it would be almost impossible for us to do our job as investigators.”

Video: Special Agent Harrigan

“If you identify somebody in the community who has been causing problems for years and years, has rotated in and out of the criminal justice system and is nevertheless out on the street causing big problems,” Gonzales said, “we will take that case if the individual is caught trafficking drugs, no matter what the amount. In most instances,” he explained, “we require a certain amount of drugs to be able to prosecute a case federally. But we’ve made it a priority in Indian County to lower, if not eliminate, our thresholds to take these cases.”

The 20-year-old Zuni woman, who was recently sentenced to a year in prison for cocaine trafficking, “had a significant tribal court history and was clearly a problem in the community,” Gonzales said, which is why the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office got involved. Ordinarily, our agents investigate major crimes in Indian Country. But going after habitual small-time drug offenders is another key way to make reservation communities safer.

“When you take even one of those bad actors out of the community, you’ve made a big impact,” said Special Agent Lenny Johns, who supervises our Santa Fe Resident Agency. “We have a very close working relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the no-tolerance program—and other programs—and we are very proud of the results of that partnership.”

“Having the FBI and federal prosecutors working in a side-by-side partnership to identify unique cases that impact the community—which we are finding to be gang cases and drug trafficking—and targeting those cases for fast-track investigation and prosecution has really made a difference,” Johns added.

Kenneth Gonzales, Lenny Johns
Kenneth Gonzales, left, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and FBI Special Agent Lenny Johns.

Coupled with other initiatives such as the Tribal Law Enforcement Act—passed by Congress in 2010 to strengthen law enforcement on the reservations and enable tribal courts to hand down stiffer sentences—Johns and Gonzales believe the federal justice system is making an impact in Indian Country, even though they acknowledge there are many challenges.

“The Department of Justice can do a lot to prosecute crime,” Gonzales said. “With the help of the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and our local tribal law enforcement partners, we can investigate and take troublesome people out of the community for extended periods of time. In that way, we are also doing a lot to prevent crime. It’s all part of our overall anti-violence strategy.”

“There is no question that a serious crime problem exists in Indian Country,” Johns said.

“The bottom line in all our efforts,” he added, “is that we are dedicated to making sure that innocent people on the reservation are not victimized.”

Next: Indian Country work offers investigators invaluable experience.



Journey Through Indian Country

About This Series
Nationwide, the FBI is responsible for investigating the most serious crimes within Indian Country and has investigative responsibilities on about 200 reservations. FBI.gov recently visited New Mexico for a firsthand look at how the Bureau and our partners fight crime on tribal lands.

- Part 1: Fighting Crime on Tribal Lands 
- Part 2: Making an Impact on the Reservation
- Part 3: Murder on the Zuni Reservation 
- Part 4: Teamwork Makes a Difficult Job Easier
- Part 5: A Zero Tolerance Approach
- Part 6: Invaluable Experience on the Reservation


The FBI in Indian CountryBy law, the FBI is responsible for investigating the most serious crimes within Indian Country. Nationwide, there are 565 federally recognized Indian tribes. The FBI has investigative responsibilities on about 200 reservations. More than 100 agents in 19 of the Bureau’s 56 field offices work Indian Country matters full time, and we’ve represented federal law enforcement on tribal lands since the 1920s.
View large map


New Mexico highway (play video)
“The work that’s being done out there, it’s truly front-line. It’s also relying on your own resources, your own wits, to get the job done, because you don’t have a lot of backup.” 
— Carol K.O. Lee, Special Agent in Charge, Albuquerque FBI

In Their Own Words
FBI officials and our law enforcement partners discuss the unique challenges of working and living in New Mexico’s Indian Country.
Lee videoGonzales videoHarrigan video
Special Agent in Charge, Albuquerque Division
  U.S. Attorney, District of New Mexico   Special Agent, Farmington Resident Agency
Fortunato video St. Germaine video McCaskill video
Special Agent, Gallup Resident Agency
Investigator, The Navajo Nation
  Special Agent, Albuquerque Division
Johns video Brusuelas video Roanhorse video
Special Agent, Santa Fe Resident Agency
  Assistant Prosecutor, Mescalero Apache Tribe   Senior Prosecutor, The Navajo Nation


Indian Country Crimes page

Indian Country Crimes
The FBI investigates the most serious offenses: murder, child sexual and physical abuse, violent assaults, drug trafficking, gaming violations, and public corruption matters.
Learn More