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Eastern Idaho Partnership showing good progress for local cities

The state of Idaho is $3.5 million richer thanks to a local program in eastern Idaho.

That program is called the Eastern Idaho Partnership. It consists of several different cities and counties who pay a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, or SAUSA, to try certain cases at the federal level.

The program started in January of 2016 and a recent report shows the program has done a lot of good for local communities.

The SAUSA for eastern Idaho is Bryan Wheat. He is based out of the federal courthouse in Pocatello.

According to a recent report on the partnership’s efforts, the program has received 70 case referrals. Fifty-two cases have already been indicted or are set for trial. Another 28 have already completed sentencing and another 30 cases are awaiting a trial date, sentencing or arrest.

Chubbuck is one of many local cities and counties who are part of the partnership. Mayor Kevin England said the program has about a 90 percent conviction rate and he said it’s done a lot of good for Chubbuck.

“I really think quality of life is what we’re talking about here,” England said. “We’re getting some of these major players with major crime off the streets and getting them out of our area. Out of the state, literally.”

Wheat agrees that’s the focus of the program.

“The main goal is to improve the quality of life,” he said. “We are able to remove persistent and dangerous criminals from our communities.”

The report shows that the average prison sentence for cases is about 6 1/2 years. Wheat said they deal a lot with illegal possession of firearms, but the majority of the cases he gets are drug crimes. Things like intent to distribute, possession, and the two biggest drugs are methamphetamine and heroin.

By being tried federally, those offenders are not housed in state prisons. That has saved the Idaho State Department of Corrections $3.5 million so far. England said that savings are felt locally too.

“Each of the counties involved – they tell us it costs about $13,000 on average to house one of these people as they’re being tried,” England explained. “That’s a cost that has left us, so there’s savings there.”

England said that’s less money cities, counties and taxpayers have to come up with to house inmates locally. It also helps slightly lower the number of inmates in already overcrowded jails around the region.

Wheat said he works with local prosecutors in every county to determine which cases would be best for him to take over. He said when deciding on cases, they focus on those that most need federal resources. He said things like violent crimes and repeat offenders are frequently chosen because those cases will face a harsher penalty when tried at the federal, rather than state, level. He said there are other factors to consider as well, especially with repeat offenders.

“Other reasons can include things like disrupting a criminal network,” Wheat said. “When offenders are incarcerated outside the state of Idaho, it removes them from their criminal network and places them in a different part of the country.”

“Once they’re taken out of the state and spend their prison time, they’ve lost their local ties and they don’t come back here,” Englad added.

England said the way the partnership works is each city and county who is part of it splits an equal payment to the attorney. He said the city of Chubbuck pays $1,500 per year. According to the state attorney’s office, the partnership pays 30 percent of SAUSA’s salary and benefits and the State of Idaho through the Department of Corrections contributes the remaining 70 percent.

“It has been very successful and because of that, I think we can all feel proud about being a part of this organization,” England said.

“There has been a lot of success,” Wheat said. “We’ve been able to remove a lot of persistent and dangerous criminals from the area. I think overall we’ve made a significant impact on our communities.”

Wheat added that he loves his job and he loves being back in Pocatello and being able to be a prosecutor here.

Wheat is a native of Inkom, Idaho. He attended Marsh Valley High School and Idaho State University. He also earned a law degree from the University of Idaho. Before returning to Pocatello, Wheat worked as a county prosecutor and SAUSA in Washington County, Utah. He said when he heard about the job opening in Pocatello, he was excited to apply and even more excited when he got it.

The partnership consists of multiple counties and cities from Cassia and Minidoka area to Jefferson and Madison counties, down to smaller counties like Oneida and Franklin. Wheat said most of the counties in eastern Idaho are a part of it.

Bannock County prosecutor Steve Herzog also added that he has been impressed with the program. He said with SAUSA taking some of their cases, it has really helped with the caseload at the local prosecutor’s level.

More statistics are listed below.

*Note: these numbers are as of July 17, 2017. It does not include numbers or statistics for cases that are still ongoing or upcoming for SAUSA. These numbers are for completed cases.

Referrals: 70 referrals received for potential federal prosecution
–46 involved methamphetamine
–2 involved a violent crime
–30 involved a firearm and/or ammunition
–8 involved illegal aliens
–2 involved internet enticement of a child/child porn
–Referrals came from 13 different cities in 9 different counties

Indictments: 52 defendants have been indicted and/or pending trial
–28 have already been sentenced
–Nearly 30 more awaiting trial, sentencing or arrest

–37 of 52 indicted cases involved drugs (37 meth, 3 heroin, 4 marijuana)
–21 cases involved a firearm or ammunition

Totals:
–Estimated cost saving by Idaho Dept. of Corrections: $3,517,855.36
–Average sentence (in years): 6.4
–Deported aliens: 2

Drugs seized: $734,650 worth of illegal drugs seized
–Methamphetamine: 6,585 grams of meth seized
–Heroin: 219 grams of heroin

Firearms seized: 30 guns along with more than 1,100 rounds of ammunition

The three counties with the highest number of defendants prosecuted by SAUSA are Bonneville, Bingham and Bannock.

Total number of defendants indicted so far by county:
–Bannock: 11
–Bingham: 12
–Bonneville: 13
–Jefferson: 2
–Madison: 3
–Minidoka: 8
–Oneida: 2
–Power: 1

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