Feds in Arizona Taking On More Drug Cases, but Also Rejecting More

Federal immigration agents stand outside Sergio's Shuttle Thursday, April 15, 2010 in Phoneix. (AP)

Federal immigration agents stand outside Sergio's Shuttle Thursday, April 15, 2010 in Phoneix. (AP)

As the number of drug prosecutions falls across the country, Arizona is confronting a remarkable surge in drug cases -- despite getting extra help from the Feds.

In the first four months of this fiscal year, drug prosecutions in Arizona have jumped 202 percent since 2008, while the rest of the country has seen a 17 percent drop, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which oversees federal law-enforcement programs.

Of nearly 16,000 federal prosecutions of drug charges estimated for 2010, a 12 percent decline from the previous year, Arizona will account for more than 2,274, a 36 percent hike from the year earlier, according to TRAC. 

But federal prosecutors, who are struggling to cope with a rapid rise in immigration cases along the Southwest border, turn down prosecutions in Arizona more than anywhere else in the country, despite an increase in funding and staffing and looser restrictions on when they can help. 

The U.S. attorney's office in Tucson, which accounts for the highest number of drug cases among all four Arizona offices, increased its staff to 145 last year, from 110 in 2008, and it reached 149 by the end of March. And federal prosecutors in Arizona last year dropped its policy of declining to press charges against suspects caught with less than 500 pounds of contraband.

But last year, federal prosecutors turned down 1,368 prosecutions, and are on pace to deny 1,287 cases this year, an increase of 113 percent from 2008 when there were 603 rejections.

Federal prosecutors, in turning down cases, commonly cite a lack of prosecutorial or investigative resources available to their office for handling the matter.

"The large number of drug cases being turned away suggests that there are serious stresses on some federal prosecutor offices," the report read. "A likely major source for these strains is the powerful flood of immigrations that has washed over the region."

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Arizona told FoxNews.com that the report can be "misleading" because the rise in drug cases is a result of federal prosecutors taking on more prosecutions after receiving more resources from the Justice Department

"In reality, we are taking more drug cases than ever before, and working in partnership with state and local agencies to make progress," spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle told FoxNews.com.

U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke told Congress last month that his office has been taking on more cases since it dropped its requirement last year of only handling cases where a bust resulted in 500 pounds or more of confiscated contraband. 

Local officials are thankful that federal prosecutors are accepting more federally-related cases.

Amelia Cramer, Pima County's chief deputy attorney, told FoxNews.com that her office, which oversees Tucson among other cities, received roughly 900 referrals last year that were declined by federal prosecutors. In the first four months of this year, that number had dropped to three.

"We're pleased that the federal prosecutor's office is able to handle all the federally related cases now," she said. But she added that the policy shift has not resulted in a lighter workload.

"Our office budget due to the state of the economy has been slashed," she said. "And we have a very difficult time keeping up with the workload."