Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 26, 2001

Drug, gang cases up dramatically in McLeod County

By Gail Lipe

Over 90 percent of all the cases prosecuted by the McLeod County Attorney's Office are related to drugs, sex, alcohol or gambling, said Mike Junge, McLeod County attorney.

"There are a greater number of drug cases and a greater number of gang cases, which is a dramatic change" Junge said.

Junge presented his annual report for 2000 to the McLeod County Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Tuesday.

There were just over 2,200 cases handled by the three full-time and one part-time attorney in the county attorney's office in 2000, which was an increase of just under 5 percent.

Junge said that the number of adult felony and gross misdemeanor criminal charges has gone down slightly, but that the decrease is not a trend. He said those crimes are on a bumpy ride upwards.

In 2000 there were 277 adult felony and gross misdemeanor criminal charges handled by the county attorney's office, which was down from the 328 in 1999.

Juvenile charges increased to 763 in 2000 from 592 in 1999.

"The vast majority of people we prosecute are young adult males ages 14 to 24," said Junge. He said the number of people who are prosecuted that are over 25 years old or 30 years old has stabilized.

Out of the 277 adult felony and gross misdemeanor charges, 44 of them were drug offenses. Junge said there were only 37 in 1999. Not only are they greater in number, they are greater in quantity of the drugs.

Driving under the influence of alcohol was slightly higher. There were 48 cases prosecuted in 2000.

Adult burglaries that were charged dropped to 7 in 2000 from 21 in 1999. Junge said the decrease in burglaries charged does not mean there were fewer burglaries in 2000. It means fewer were charged out.

Adult theft charges also decreased to 34 in 2000 from 52 in 1999.

There were 192 adult males charged in 2000 and 48 women.

The adult misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor charges that the county attorney's office dealt with in 2000 decreased by approximately 100 to 440.

The largest number of charges for juveniles in 2000 was 110 minor consumptions, followed by 89 traffic violations and 78 thefts.

Theft of a motor vehicle increased to 27 in 2000. Junge said there were a lot of snowmobiles stolen this year.

There also were 229 juveniles who were placed in a diversion program. Junge said those juveniles were dealt with in the court system without going in front of a judge.

Crimes that are on the diversion list include curfew violations, minor consumption, shoplifting and tobacco violations. Junge said juveniles that go through the diversion program who are charged with minor consumption or shoplifting are required to attend awareness classes and may be required to do some sentence to service work.

If a theft is involved, the juvenile also is required to pay restitution.

The purpose of the diversion program is to reduce the amount of time needed in front of a judge or with a public defender.

Junge also said some of the police departments in communities in the county have asked if he would agree with a program where the victims and the juvenile perpetrators work get together to work things out. He said if a department is using that program, the crimes do not get sent on to the county attorney's office.

The county attorney's office also deals with social service issues, welfare fraud cases, appellate court, forfeitures and child support issues. It also deals with legal issues for the different county departments.

There were 130 cases from social services, including 50 child in need of protection or services cases and 51 medical assistance cases. The medical assistance cases added up to over $66,900, of which approximately 27 percent is kept by the county.

Junge said those cases are primarily regarding claims against the estates of people who received medical assistance before they died.

There were 37 reports of welfare fraud that went to Junge's office, 27 of which were closed without charges filed.

Junge said the cases that are appealed could be sent on to the Minnesota Attorney General, but he does not like to do that. He said dealing with the appeal makes the attorney a better attorney.

There were 49 new child support files opened in 2000. Junge said that 24 of them were public assistance and 25 non-public.

He said that there was over $3.7 million collected on behalf of the children in McLeod County. Child support is a place where the government is increasingly getting involved, he said.

In the 1980s, social services in McLeod County did not collect the child support payments for people. Now child support payments in the county go through social services.

Junge said child support is an area where the collections help the people who receive them stay off of public assistance.


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