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Drug investigations pay off

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With several significant arrests in the space of a few days, it appears efforts by the Cloquet Police Department to focus on drug enforcement are working. Of course, it also helps when alleged criminals call the police directly.

Johnathan Gregory Maio, 33, faces charges of first degree drug possession of methamphetamine, and two charges of fifth degree posession of Psilocybin (hallucinogenic) mushrooms and heroin.

According to the criminal complaint:

Police officers from the Cloquet and Fond du Lac police departments responded to a call Feb. 7 from Maio, who claimed that a family member had taken money from his bedroom. When officers spoke to to parties on the scene, the family member stated that he had actually taken heroin from Maio's room so he would not use or sell it. Maio allegedly showed officers a video from a surveillance system set up in his room. Based on officers' observations on the scene and statements from other people at the house, officers suspected Maio had controlled substances in his locked bedroom and subsequently secured the scene and obtained a search warrant for Maio's bedroom.

During the search of his bedroom, officers allegedly found six firearms, 137 grams of a substance that field tested positive for meth, two grams of psilocybin mushrooms as well as paraphernalia for drug use and sale. In a hutch in the living room, officers located two grams of suspected controlled substances which field tested positive for heroin; Maio allegedly admitted the heroin was his. Maio posted a non-cash bond Tuesday, Feb. 13. His next court appearance is set for Feb. 26.

Two days later, following an investigation that began in January with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Cloquet police arrested Kenneth Michael Benson Jr, after an undercover drug buy.

Benson, 22, faces two first-degree charges of possession and sale of 17 grams of more of meth.

According to that criminal complaint:

Cloquet police officers and Minnesota BCA officials began an investigation of Benson, a Hastings resident who they believed was selling large quantities of meth in Carlton County.

Officers worked with a cooperating individual who contacted Benson, discussed pricing and delivery of meth, and ultimately made a deal to purchase a quarter pound of meth for $3,500. Officers arranged for a controlled buy in the parking lot of a local shopping center, and watched as a white van pulled up. Benson allegedly exited the van and gave the informant a cell phone box containing a substance that field tested positive for 107.9 grams of meth in exchange for the money.

Benson was charged in Sixth District Carlton County Court Monday, Feb. 12. An omnibus hearing is set for Feb. 21.

Cloquet Police Chief Jeff Palmer said the drug arrests are no accident. Since he took over, he has increased the number of detectives back to three.

"Once we were at full strength, I changed our enforcement focus to drugs, which I believe had not been our focus," Palmer said in an email response to the Pine Journal. "Drugs have always been a problem in our community, as it is a problem for many communities throughout our nation. By changing our focus, the hard work by our detectives/officers, and our commitment to the community as a department, is why you are seeing a higher number of drug arrests over the last 11 months."

Also last week, on Feb. 8, Cloquet police executed a search warrant at a Cloquet residence. During the search, officers seized approximately one pound of suspected marijuana, $1,693, and took an adult male, Zachary Daniel Mullen, into custody.

According to a police department press release, this incident and the subsequent search warrant were a continuation of an investigation of an individual whom the department had previously arrested in November 2017, when the suspect was arrested in possession of over 14 pounds of alleged marijuana.

Mullen was charged in Sixth District Carlton County Court with 5th-degree sale of a controlled substance and 5th-degree possession of a controlled substance related to the most recent search and arrest.