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Painkillers add up to big trouble for police lieutenant

It looks like Metro Lt. Steve Menger might have picked the wrong time to get into the freelance pharmaceutical business.

A 19-year veteran, Menger is at the center of a felony narcotics investigation. Multiple law enforcement sources recently confirmed Menger is suspected of collecting thousands of OxyContin, Lortab and Vicodin pills by using phony prescriptions written out of a local doctor’s office. A search of Menger’s residence recovered large quantities of the powerful and addictive painkillers popular on the street.

Having worked in Metro’s narcotics unit, Menger would know something about that. More recently, he was a trusted member of Metro’s Emergency Management component and lectured on behalf of the department on homeland security issues. Before being relieved of duty pending the outcome of the investigation, he was assigned to patrol.

Menger once mixed not only with Sheriff Doug Gillespie and Metro’s top supervisors, but also with homeland security experts. Meanwhile, sources say he was secretly using his physician’s office contact to collect a pile of pills: 200 a week or more.

What did he do with them?

Only a rube would believe anyone would need thousands of painkillers for personal use. Like most police departments, Metro has established rehabilitation guidelines for officers who develop substance abuse problems. But a cop with a bad back doesn’t need hundreds of pills obtained with phony prescriptions.

If the numbers I’m hearing are accurate, Menger possessed enough painkillers to tranquilize a herd of elephants.

Sources close to the investigation say they believe Menger might have used a female friend to distribute the drugs. If so, that considerably compounds his legal trouble. It also won’t help Menger if he was on duty and in uniform, as I have heard, when he went to the physician’s office and then to local pharmacies.

By law, pharmacies are required to track painkiller prescriptions. Even if those prescriptions were faked, there should be a reasonable way to determine the scope and scale of the suspected actions.

This past week, word circulated that the case might be transferred from the U.S. attorney’s office to the Clark County district attorney’s office, but it’s staying under federal jurisdiction.

A lot of people figure to be interested in the outcome of the investigation, and not just the potential targets and members of law enforcement. If a large quantity of pills is involved, coupled with signs of distribution, it’s hard to imagine Menger catching much of a break.

After all, Southern Nevada history is riddled with examples of baggy-pants scufflers going to prison after getting caught making street-corner drug deals. It’s impossible to justify holding them to a higher standard than a veteran cop who had passed a homeland security background check and at one time had access to sensitive counterterrorism and emergency management strategies.

Metro insiders believe the investigation has established evidence of possession and no more, but that seems like wishful thinking now. Word is Sheriff Gillespie was furious after being informed of the Menger scenario. If the facts prove out, it would constitute a staggering betrayal.

And for what?

There doesn’t figure to be much sympathy at Metro for a cop who freelances pharmaceuticals. Veteran officers I’ve interviewed have expressed outrage and embarrassment. They have enough critics as it is.

Then there’s the secretive and supposedly elite collection of law enforcement officials who constitute the homeland security effort. Menger was a member in good standing. His former associates must be pretty pleased to learn of the ongoing investigation. I’m left to wonder about the thoroughness of those supposedly exhaustive background checks.

Add it up and you can see why the Menger case is unlikely to fade soon.

Street-corner scufflers will want to know how it turns out. The rest of us will be watching, too.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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