Culpeper detectives have worked with the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal partners on local operations involving deadly pounds of fentanyl and methamphetamine somehow linked to the cartels of drugs, County Sheriff Scott Jenkins said Wednesday at the annual “State of the Community Program” hosted by the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce.
The native son and Republican activist known for his views on immigration mentioned the Jalisco crime cartel among syndicates with reach in the Culpeper area. Jenkins said it was the most important community topic he could talk about for the annual program, hosted on Zoom for the third year.
“We have everything from money laundering to human trafficking in this community, homes of real human slavery…People are housed here, tens of thousands of dollars they owe…to have crossed the border and they have to work years to pay and no one sees it, no one reads it in the local paper,” Jenkins said.
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It was one of the sheriff’s few public presentations in recent years and he used his roughly 10 minutes to talk about immigration issues, focusing on the local side of a national issue.
Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins, unrelated to Sheriff Jenkins, told the Star-Exponent in a Wednesday afternoon phone call that he reportedly spoke about mental health as the most important topic having currently impacting Culpeper. He said there were a lot of really sick people, but few treatment beds to help them.
The two law enforcement officials from Culpeper Jenkins are members of the command board of the Virginia State Police’s Blue Ridge Narcotics & Gang Task Force.
In December, Sheriff Jenkins announced the arrest of an undocumented immigrant living in the town of Culpeper with ties to a “well-known” cartel. During the operation, firearms, magazines, ammunition and approximately $12,000 in cash were seized.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office did not confirm Wednesday whether the person arrested was specifically linked to Jalisco, characterized by the DEA as a transnational criminal organization. The spokesperson said the sheriff stood by his statement designating Jalisco as active in the Culpeper area, but declined to identify the recently arrested person’s cartel affiliation.
Another local law enforcement official said the person arrested was a local high school graduate who cut hair for a living. Member of a drug cartel? No, the source said.
Police Chief Jenkins said it was a case and he would not dispute Sheriff Jenkins’ claims of cartel activity or engage in a “piss match”.
“A deal here, a deal there,” Chief Jenkins said, adding that he seriously doubts drug cartels are the No. 1 problem for Culpeper. “There’s a lot of drugs here,” added Chris Jenkins, also from Culpeper. “A lot of it comes out of Baltimore through Corridor 29.”
Cartel activity is happening right under their noses, but the public doesn’t know about it, the sheriff said in his presentation, referring to intertwined federal cases that go on and on. Jenkins said he was going to change that this year to open people’s eyes.
“We’re going to share information regardless of what’s happening at the federal level,” Jenkins said.
Culpeper is as safe as he has been for years, he said.
“But if you look at what’s going on, the carnage on the southern border, when you open the door all the way and have no enforcement in the last year, you see this huge increase,” Jenkins said.
The Sheriff continues to professionally partner with Federal Immigration at ICE as the only local agency in the state still part of the 287(g) Immigration Enforcement Program.
In Culpeper’s case, it grants local jail deputies, with ICE training, the authority to perform the limited duties of a federal immigration officer. These include: interrogating undocumented detainees, executing arrest warrants for immigration violations, detaining and transporting aliens subject to removal to ICE detention facilities, and releasing detainees from immigration, according to the agreement between ICE and Jenkins updated in 2020.
Local opponents of 287(g) said the program had a chilling effect on Culpeper’s ever-growing and diverse Hispanic population, actively contributing to the local economy and community. They say it’s counterproductive for community relations.
Police Chief Jenkins said he did not want to contribute to a narrative targeting the drug and crime-related activities of a particular segment of the population. Most local immigrants are just trying to make a living, he said.
Sheriff Jenkins, during Wednesday’s presentation, argued for continued construction of the southern border wall, saying the materials were rusting in the desert. He pleaded for “a huge door” and to identify each person who passes.
“Photographs, DNA, fingerprints. I think it makes sense if we’re going to let them into our country without citizenship, without any requirements,” Jenkins said.
Twenty years after 9/11, terrorist attacks by those crossing the border improperly are possible, the sheriff said.
“We Culpeper Virginians need to speak up,” Jenkins said, linking the rise in fatal fentanyl overdoses to the cartels. “It’s made mostly in other countries and 90% of it crosses the southern border into the United States”
The sheriff mentioned that Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich recently authorized his governor to deploy National Guard troops and state law enforcement officers to forcibly remove migrants from the other side of the border. The Arizona attorney general’s February legal opinion does not have the force of law, according to the Associated Press.
Jenkins, a staunch Trump supporter, said the current presidential administration “practically folded their hands and said anyone can come in.” He said the flow of drugs or associated drugs into the community would only get worse.
“I feel like putting that in the spotlight right now…because it’s going to augment all the other things that we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Jenkins said.
The local sheriff began his remarks on immigration by asking if the taking of Ukrainian lives in the current war was more important than the lives lost in America to drug and violence-related deaths. Culpeper has seen an alarming increase in drug-related deaths, namely fentanyl.
“They’re overrun in Ukraine and we’re overrun here in America on our southern border,” Scott Jenkins said.
Police Chief Jenkins disagreed with a story that he did not believe was representative of Culpeper and that may alarm the community. He said his officers were focused on deporting Narcan to save lives due to a drug overdose.
In closing his remarks, the sheriff said progress is being made on the county to potentially acquire the eight-year-vacant 500-bed state prison next to the Coffeewood Correctional Center in Rapidan.
Overcrowding at the 75-bed downtown Culpeper Jail has been a problem for years, leading to housing local inmates statewide and millions of dollars in costs.
Jenkins sounded hopeful as he spoke of discussions with Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Director of Public Safety Bob Mosier, Fauquier’s former sheriff, about access to empty state prison space.
The conversation started a few years ago under the Northam administration, but never materialized. The state now says it won’t need to convert the former Rapidan juvenile facility to a women’s facility anytime soon, according to Jenkins.
He said Paige County, facing the same jail issues as Culpeper, would get detention space at the facility that could also be outsourced to other Virginia counties in need of jail space.
In 2007, when Culpeper was planning to build a 400-bed jail, it would have cost $44 million, the sheriff said. Using the empty state prison located in the county to meet those needs today will cost less, Jenkins said, promising “huge savings to taxpayers.”
Jenkins thanked the governor and Mosier for their attention to the matter.
“It’s just a wonderful thing to see this hopefully coming to fruition soon,” he said.