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WCSO detectives give briefing on human trafficking, drugs

Webster County Sheriff’s Office detectives Amy Stringer and Tom Steck gave a presentation about human trafficking and drugs in Webster County during a Brown Bag Briefing at the Fort Dodge Public Library on Thursday.

Stringer is a general crimes detective and evidence technician for the WCSO, and Steck worked narcotics investigations with the Fort Dodge Police Department before joining the Sheriff’s Office as a detective last year.

Stringer gave an example of a local human trafficking case that was investigated in Webster County. About 10 years ago, then-WCSO Detective Jason Bahr took a report from a mother who was concerned about a man in his mid-50s who wanted to talk to her 17-year-old daughter. Through interviews and investigation, the detectives found that Michael Malcom, of Humboldt — with the help of Ashley Prince and Nikki Fawcett, both of Fort Dodge — were recruiting young girls to take nude photographs and videos to distribute. The trio ended up being convicted in federal court. Malcom is still serving a 15-year sentence in the federal prison in Rochester, Minnesota. Prince and Fawcett have since been released.

“This is something that does happen in Webster County,” Stringer said.

Human trafficking doesn’t always involve sex work, she told the audience. Human trafficking also looks like people being forced or coerced into working for little or no wages.

Lots of things have been happening in Iowa to combat human trafficking, including new laws and statutory changes, increased training for law enforcement on what to look for, and support programs for victims, Stringer said.

Steck spoke about the illegal drug industry in Webster County.

“Marijuana is the most abused illegal drug in Iowa,” he said.

As an investigator, Steck said he has found that the use of marijuana is directly correlated with the use of guns.

“Marijuana is as dangerous of a drug as anything else,” he said.

One of the problems with marijuana that is becoming more and more common are the prevalence of “edibles” that look similar to non-marijuana foods.

“We actually had a case where an 18-month-old kid got into his parents’ gummy bears that were THC-laced,” Steck said.

The child had to receive extensive medical attention, he said.

Steck also talked about the prevalence of methamphetamine in Fort Dodge. Most of the meth on the streets today is transported from Mexico, he said. In the last 10 years, he’s had to respond to just three meth lab dump sites, which he said is at least partially thanks to laws limiting the purchase of pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in homemade meth-making.

“It’s great for us that we don’t have to deal with these meth labs,” he said.

With the influx of meth from Mexico, the street value of the drug has plummeted, Steck said. In 2015, half an ounce of meth would cost between $1,200 and $1,400 in Fort Dodge. Today, that same half ounce would be $250-350.

Several members of the audience asked what regular citizens can do to help law enforcement when it comes to human and drug trafficking in the area. Stringer and Steck responded that reaching out to law enforcement when they see something suspicious is the best way to help. The non-emergency number for the Webster County Sheriff’s Office is 515-573-1410.

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