City agrees to take over GRAMNET

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— The city of Steamboat Springs has agreed to take over administration of the Grant, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team, which came under fire earlier this fall.

The Steamboat Springs City Council voted to let the city act as the financing agent in securing the grant that funds the task force.

With the change, Steamboat Director of Public Safety J.D. Hays will act as the authorized official for securing the Byrne Grant. Because of the change, Hays will replace 14th Judicial District Attorney Paul McLimans, who has secured and maintained the grant for the past six years.

Also, Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James will be replaced as the task force's project director.

Dwight Murphy, a Steamboat police officer who supervises the task force, will replace St. James.

Since the task force's inception, McLimans has assigned a prosecutor within his office to supervise and manage the task force.

"Our role has changed over the years," McLimans said. "Most of the services we provide are budget and grant management. It is a poor utilization of our legal resources."

Since St. James became the project director in May, he has had a tough time working with the task force that consists of officers from Steamboat, Craig, Hayden, Oak Creek and the Grand, Routt, Moffat and Jackson county sheriff's offices.

Officers from each of the agencies work closely with Drug Enforcement Administration agents assigned to Steamboat Springs.

"Most of the work is being done by someone else, and we are putting our signature on it," McLimans said.

St. James also is needed to train two new prosecutors, David Moffat and Charles Lance, in the Steamboat Springs office, McLimans said.

In September, McLimans' responsibility for GRAMNET became an issue in his office's prosecution of a murder trial.

Defense attorneys for Thomas Lee Johnson attempted to remove McLimans and St. James from prosecuting Johnson because GRAMNET conducted an investigation of the case's presiding judge, Joel S. Thompson, and his live-in girlfriend, Billie Jo Vreeman.

The task force arrested Vreeman on federal drug charges in August, which caused Thompson to recuse himself from the Johnson case.

Charges against Vreeman were later dropped when she agreed to enter a drug diversion program.

McLimans contended his office had no knowledge of the investigation, although St. James was the task force director.

Although McLimans' office will no longer be responsible for the task force, his attorneys will continue to work closely with its operations.

"We will continue to provide the task force with legal advice and resources," McLimans said.

Because of the changes, Jeannie Utu will become a city employee. Utu is the office administrator for GRAMNET and formerly reported to McLimans.

The task force and Utu's position are funded by the grant and funds from the participating agencies.

Hays does not expect for operations of the task force to change.

"This is a matter of who is managing the funds," Hays said. "Dwight has been doing it all along anyway."

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