Sting ends ketamine theft ring

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Illinois police in late January broke up a ring of animal drug thieves believed responsible for a rash of burglaries at veterinary clinics throughout the Midwest.

Some equipment and animal tranquilizers were stolen, but police say the goal of the burglaries was attaining ketamine hydrochloride, a drug sold illegally for its hallucinogenic effects.

At press time, five people had been arrested in connection with at least 20 burglaries in Illinois, according to Deputy Chief Robert Randall of the Lake County sheriff's police. Some in the group confessed to break-ins at clinics in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota over the past year.

The multijurisdictional investigation is ongoing, and additional suspects are being sought, Randall added.

Charged with eight counts of burglary is Glenn E. Trauthwein, 19, of Waukegan, Ill; charged with four counts of burglary is Marissa J. Arteaga, 19, of Mundelein, Ill; and cited with four counts of burglary is a 16-year-old runaway boy from Chicago.

Trauthwein and the boy were arrested during the early morning hours of Jan 21 while allegedly trying to pry open a locked cabinet at the Prairie View Animal Hospital in DeKalb. Arteaga was taken into custody later that day at her home.

Trauthwein was under surveillance as part of a multi-agency investigation into a string of burglaries that targeted mostly veterinary clinics. Police had learned that Trauthwein and the Chicago boy needed to replenish their ketamine supply and were planning to burglarize the DeKalb animal hospital, according to Randall.

When the two hit the clinic, police were waiting. "We caught them red-handed," Randall said. Two unidentified persons have since been arrested in connection with the burglaries as well, Randall said.

The group is suspected of several similar burglaries at veterinary clinics in surrounding counties and outside the state.

"There may be a lot that this group is responsible for," Randall said. An anesthetic used in human and animal medicine, ketamine is known as "Special K" on the street, and authorities say it is a popular rave, or dance, party drug.

Intending to curb illegal distribution and use, the Drug Enforcement Administration last year classified ketamine as a schedule III drug, which requires security and record keeping at practices that stock the drug (see JAVMA, Aug 15, 1999, page 467).

Randall said the Chicago boy claims he was making up to $2,000 a week selling the drug. Authorities are totaling the amount of ketamine the group is believed to have stolen.

Dr. Dennis Diemer, who co-owns the clinic in DeKalb, said January's attempted burglary is the second time the small animal clinic has been targeted by thieves. Ten 10 ml bottles of ketamine were stolen from the clinic during a September break-in. Nothing else was taken, however, Dr. Diemer said.

Randall encouraged veterinarians to install alarm systems and possibly surveillance cameras in their clinics, and to store all controlled substances in a safe. Although such precautions aren't always effective, he said they can deter would-be burglars.