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Dave Roepke, Published May 28 2010

Two local officers honored by ATF

Two local officers – a state trooper from North Dakota and a Moorhead detective – were honored Thursday by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for their work on local gun-related cases.

Bernard J. Zapor, special agent in charge for a four-state region that includes both Minnesota and North Dakota, said the ATF relies on its partnerships with local police agencies.

“Nobody has all the resources,” he said. “You’ve got to work with the people who know what’s going on.”

Zapor said “little crime events” can often be revealing, first steps that jump-start larger investigations.

Take, for instance, a 2007 traffic stop by Scott Walch, the trooper recognized on Thursday in a ceremony at the federal building in downtown Fargo. Walch’s vehicle search kicked off a federal case that generated 20 convictions for members of a Fargo-based group of methamphetamine dealers.

Fourteen of those convictions were for gun charges, and the meth ring wasn’t known to law enforcement before the stop, said Robert Schmidt, ATF spokesman.

Prison terms for those snared in the joint investigation by ATF and federal drug agents ranged from 18 months to 20 years, including a 20-year sentence for Justin Ray Peterson on drug-trafficking charges, Schmidt said.Ryan Nelson, a detective in Moorhead, was commended for his investigation of a drive-by shooting in 2008 in which nearly a dozen shots were fired at an occupied home. Nobody was injured in the drive-by.

The 17-year-old who fired the shots, Randy Castillo, and a friend who provided the gun and the car, Trever Perish, were convicted – Castillo getting time in the juvenile correctional facility in Red Wing, Minn., and Perish getting nearly three and a half years in state prison.

Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger wasn’t at all surprised by the kudos. He said Nelson, a detective for five years, has a nose for investigative work.

“He’s the man,” Ebinger said. “He could do this anywhere in the country.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535