Park County drug busts had multi-state impact, official says

POWELL — When local, state and federal law enforcement agents teamed up earlier this year to bust multiple people with large quantities of meth in Park County, their efforts had an impact on the drug trade not only locally, but outside of Wyoming, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service says.

Disrupting the efforts of the “high-level” drug distributors, “made a significant impact on the drug community, causing a ripple effect across several states,” UPSIS Denver Division Inspector in Charge Ruth Mendonça wrote. 

Mendonça made the remarks in a pair of commendations issued to Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Toohey and Cody Police Officer Blake Stinson, who assisted the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation with the cases. 

In March, Officer Stinson pulled over a vehicle driven by Philip Dobbins, which was found to contain more than 350 grams of meth. Then in July, Deputy Toohey pulled over a vehicle driven by William Taylor — reportedly one of Dobbins’ suppliers — and a subsequent search turned up 200 grams of meth, plus heroin and marijuana. Authorities say all the drugs were destined for distribution in the Park County area, and specifically Cody. 

Dobbins’ passenger and alleged co-conspirator, Natosha Martin of Cody, and Melissa Walsh of Sacramento — who was reportedly shipping meth to Taylor from California to Cody — were also arrested and indicted on federal charges in connection with the investigation. 

Inspector in Charge Mendonça wrote that Officer Stinson’s and Deputy Toohey’s “knowledge of the criminal element in Park County” helped identify, arrest and prosecute all four defendants.

“Without their knowledge of this community and eagerness to be proactive, this case and subsequent investigation would not have been possible,” Mendonça wrote in her commendation, which was formally presented to the officers at Tuesday’s Park County Commission meeting.

Forrest Williams, the interim director of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, issued similar commendations to Toohey and Stinson, writing that they both have shown “an uncanny ability to identify and address rising drug issues within the community in which [they patrol].”

While the cases culminated in traffic stops, DCI agents had spent months beforehand investigating Dobbins and his associates, according to court records. They went undercover — reportedly tricking both Dobbins and Taylor into selling them meth — and later got court approval to seize packages, search through Facebook messages and attach a GPS tracking device to one of Taylor’s vehicles, among other tactics. 

Toohey, Stinson and other local law enforcement partners, “conducted surveillance, search warrants, traffic stops and independent investigations to further the primary investigation,” Inspector in Charge Mendonça wrote. 

“This led to the seizure of over one and a half pounds of methamphetamine, various quantities of heroin, marijuana, hydrocodone, fentanyl and GHB, all with the express purpose of being redistributed in Cody, Wyoming.” 

DCI also seized Taylor’s vehicle, a 2008 Ford Edge valued at $6,800, which is now the property of the State of Wyoming; District Court Judge Bill Simpson allowed the property to be forfeited to the state in November, finding that the SUV “was knowingly and unlawfully used or intended for use in violation of the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act.” 

The Powell Police Department assisted with Taylor’s case, as Syd — a drug detection dog handled by Powell Officer Reece McLain — alerted to the scent of narcotics on Taylor’s vehicle, helping to establish probable cause for a search. 

DCI Interim Director Williams’ commendation described the investigation as “a combined multiagency effort.” He mentioned the assistance provided by U.S. Postal Inspector R.J. Fergon of Cheyenne, the lead law enforcement officer on the federal cases and who presented Toohey and Stinson with their commendations on Tuesday. 

In a news release, Inspector in Charge Mendonça also noted the aid of the Park County Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wyoming. 

“This is a perfect example of all levels of law enforcement cooperating to make sure narcotics did not make it to the streets of our communities,” Mendonça said in a news release. 

The county commissioners and others in attendance — including representatives from multiple law enforcement agencies — offered a standing ovation for Stinson and Toohey following the brief presentation. DCI Special Agent Juliet Fish praised the work of both Cody-based officers.

“We sincerely would not have made these cases without them,” Fish said. 

Of the four federal cases that stemmed from the investigation, three remain pending in Wyoming’s U.S. District Court. 

Dobbins was released from federal custody to attend a drug treatment center in Sheridan, but fled when he was ordered to return to detention. He’s been at large since October. 

Meanwhile, Martin is serving a 37-month sentence in federal prison, while Taylor and Walsh are set to be sentenced in February. 

DCI Interim Director Williams referred to “continuing investigations” in his letter, while Mendonça said that postal inspectors “will continue to aggressively investigate those who use the U.S. Postal Service to facilitate their illegal activities.”