Thursday, January 29, 2009


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Two published illustrated books – Bony Yoga and Rats Incredible. Other writing includes hundreds of columns and articles, thousands of poems, five illustrated chapbooks, illustrated children’s books, illustrated/photo humor books, ad, catalog and promotional copy, newsletters, press releases, thesis on folklore of NYC transit workers. Awards include first place 2007 Don Schellie Award for best feature column in Arizona, two first place awards for best humorous column in New Mexico and others for poetry, column and news articles.

Illustrations for columns, newspapers, promotional materials, tattoos, books; artist for nationwide Art-o-Mat project (, president and designer for RYN-dustries, which includes entire line of Lucky Voodoo Dolls.

Wrote and performed all own material on television, radio and stage. Weekly spot on Tucson Morning Wake-Up Call radio show with Scott Barnett. Featured both solo and with musical accompaniment; experience in stand-up comedy and theatre. Hosted several poetry series.


Master of Arts in English Literature, Brooklyn College
GPA: 3.7. Degree awarded: Feb. 2000; thesis on occupational folklore of NYC subway workers; major in folklore, French proficiency requirement met for degree

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, French, Brooklyn College
Major GPA: 4.0; overall GPA: 3.9. Degree awarded: Jan. 1996 Summa Cum Laude, dean's honor list; scholarship from dept. of English; merit certificate for excellence in Latin; Donald G. Whiteside Poetry Award; French minor

BCAT: Brooklyn Community Access Television
Certified producer – camera and editing; produced shows for NYS government

SBNI: Summer Broadcast News Institute, Brooklyn College/BCAT
Trained as producer, director, writer, reporter, anchor and camera for broadcast news

Study Abroad Program, Brooklyn College
Focus on drama and creative writing; study in both London and Paris

Languages: French
Long-term study of French language, literature, translation, history and culture


Reporter, Columnist: Gannett, Arizona, 1/07 – Present * Tucson Citizen: award-winning weekly column, cover general assignments, crime, dead blog, investigative, features, photos and artwork, weekly radio gig on KLPX

Writer, artist, RYN-dustries, 9/03 – Present * Freelance writer and artist with credits including New York Newsday, New York Press, Brooklyn Woman Newspaper, Voices: The Journal of NY Folklore, numerous Web sites, journals and anthologies. Manage online stores, including www.cafeshops/ryndustries. Create wide variety of original artwork for merchandise and line of “Lucky Voodoo Dolls.”

Writer, artist, Demand Studios, 10/07 – Present * Freelance writer and artist with hundreds of articles at

Reporter, Columnist: Wescom Communications, Oregon, 2/06 – 11/06 * Curry Coastal Pilot: covered education beat, features, general assignments, photos, weekly column. The Daily Triplicate, Calif.: covered county, tribes and parks, weekly column. Wrote at least 10 stories per week, photos, illustrations.

Managing Editor, Reporter: Freedom Newspapers, New Mexico, 4/05 – 2/06 * Quay County Sun, Clovis News Journal: wrote and edited all content, news, features, lifestyles, sports, photos, illustrations, award-winning weekly column.

Vice President of Administration: Synergistic Plans, Inc., NYC, 7/02 – 3/05 * Focus on presentations, marketing, promotional endeavors, initiated radio show.

Director of Public Affairs: New York State Senate, Brooklyn, NY, 1/00 – 7/02 * Public relations, wrote and edited press releases, newsletters, produced TV show.

Columnist, Artist: Brooklyn Woman, Brooklyn, NY, 12/01 – 12/03 * Contributed weekly column with accompanying illustrations.

Regional Editor, Artist: Medicinal Purposes Lit. Review, NYC, 2001 – 2006 * Edited, contributed art; host and coordinate poetry series.

Writer, Artist: 12-Gauge Review, Brooklyn, NY, 1996 – Present * Columnist, poet and cartoonist for online literary magazine at

Instructor: Kingsborough Community College, Brooklyn, NY, 1997 - 2002 * Taught basic drawing, TV studio, theater and chemistry classes (ongoing).

Assistant Editor, Reporter: Courier-Life Publications, Bklyn, NY, 1996 – 1999 * Edited, researched, supervised reporters, wrote news, features, subway beat.

Reporter, Columnist, Artist: Brooklyn College Excelsior, 1991 – 1995 * Wrote news and feature articles, weekly column, cartoons.

Available upon request.

COLUMN: Ryn: Where anyone can score


Bowling is sexy. But don't take it from me, the gal who thinks it's hot to pair a leopard skin jacket with combat boots.

Take it from my boyfriend, who I am convinced would not be my boyfriend in the first place if we had not gone bowling on our first date.

You can also take it from Caryn Bustos, general manager of Tucson's Golden Pin Lanes at 1010 W. Miracle Mile.

After Bustos laughed at the question, she had to agree that bowling is, in fact, sexy.

"It can be, sure," she said. "It's a very social sport."

While bowling may not feature football's tight pants or hockey's alluring goalie masks, it offers so much more.

"Bowling is fun," said Dave Petruska, a Tucson Citizen staffer who has been hooked on the sport for more than 50 years. "You make a lot of noise. You can do it whether you are 8 or 80. And size doesn't matter."

It's also a great first date. Folks are engaged in a unifying activity, immediately putting them at ease.

There is no need to force conversation or come up with dumb pickup lines about astrological signs.

You don't even have to be good at it. Although I'm Polish, I only averaged something like 70 on our first date. And he still asked me out on a second one.

Bowling is also a welcome break from the bar scene, Bustos said, especially when places like Golden Pin Lanes offer late-night cosmic bowling.

"That's where it gets a little more sexy," Bustos said. "Some of the girls come in with hardly anything on."

After all, the only dress requirement is the shoes (which I also find incredibly attractive in some sick, twisted way).

Not just the nearly naked late-night set are taking to the lanes.

Senior citizens, elementary and high school students and full-fledged families are lacing up their bowling shoes.

Ever since the economy went in the gutter, Bustos has noticed an increase in bowlers.

For a mere $30, a family of six can bowl for two hours at Golden Pins, with the price of shoe rental, a pitcher of soda pop and a large pizza included.

Compare that with a bunch of $7 entrees, $10 movie tickets and $5 boxes of those little chocolate candies with white sprinkles.

Kids who are too small to lift the ball can get help with a big wire ramp. The kid using one next to us got fewer gutter balls than I did.

Bowling was also rated the No. 1 participatory sport for 2007, with more than 67 million folks heading to the lanes at least once that year.

"Bowling, as a recreational activity, has always been hot," Petruska said.

While he said bowling leagues have never regained the popularity they once boasted from the 1950s through the 1970s, bowling has become more widespread in other venues.

Twenty states across the nation offer high school or college bowling as a varsity sport; 25 others - including Arizona - offer it as a club sport.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association sanctions women's bowling as a varsity sport, Petruska said, and more than two dozen schools are in on the action.

And that's not all.

Bowling has fully blasted into the national scene, with the 2009 United States Bowling Congress National Tournament in Las Vegas expecting a hefty 17,200 teams, for a total of 85,000 individual bowlers.

They will be hurling large, marbleized balls at a bunch of defenseless pins for 154 days straight.

You don't get much sexier than that.

Bowlers may get bathroom breaks in between, but the tournament's heavy action runs from Feb. 21 through July 24 - longer than a lot of relationships last.

That just proves bowling can keep people together, even long after a smashing first date.

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter who used to wear bowling shoes as a fashion statement. Listen to a preview of her column at 8:10 a.m. Thursdays on KLPX 96.1 FM.
This column originally appeared in the Tucson Citizen.

COLUMN: Ryn: Let's straighten out tongue twisters


'I don't speak English" is quickly becoming the most popular phrase in America.

It's already catchier than "Got milk?" and may even be surpassing the once funny and famous "Where's the beef?"

Never mind the whereabouts of milk and beef. We should ask instead when English will be declared our official language.

Sweden may have a higher percentage of English speakers than does southern Arizona. And we're not the only area affected.

Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, has an enclave known as Little Odessa where they only speak "the Russian."

Chinatowns have popped up like button mushrooms, from the long established in San Francisco to the blossoming communities in Queens. Conversing in English means a smile and a nod.

This is not a rant against foreign languages or cultures. Both are essential in making America the rich tapestry it has become while serving to preserve tradition and heritage.

I would be tickled to add more of my own heritage, provided I knew a few more words of Polish than the slang terms shoo shoo and dupa.

The whirl of various tastes, tones and aromas - especially curry - makes the United States an awesome place.

But just as Americans should respect the aspects of other cultures, other cultures, in turn, should respect what's been established in America.

Like the English language. I wouldn't move to Moscow, Mexico City or Paris and expect to get around without learning their mother tongue.

France's language police - made up of L'Académie française and La Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie - long have been protecting its linguistic borders. They especially frown upon words borrowed from English, such as "talk show," "blog" and "le weekend."

England's on a new tear, with some local city councils trying to kick out Latin words and phrases, according to a recent Associated Press story.

That country's Plain English Campaign has been purging confusing legalese for 30 years, making legal and public documents easier for common folk to read. But now some city councils are taking it ad extremum.

I'm not asking for the same extremes here in America. Eradicating Latin would ruin too many crossword puzzles.

Nor do we need to purge our lingo of other foreign words or phrases. It's just too much fun to say, "zeitgeist," "beaux arts" and "chimichanga."

And all hell would break loose if we tried to change place names derived from foreign roots. That would kill Detroit, Baton Rouge and every third street in Tucson.

La Cañada Drive. Camino Seco. Ajo Way.

Let the place names and foreign phrases be preserved, but let's also preserve jolly old English.

Sweden can blame its glut of English, in part, on its inability to proclaim Swedish an official language.

Having one official language would save thousands - if not millions - of dollars and countless forests each year.

Many utility bills come with duplicates of those crappy little inserts that no one reads anyway.

Here in Tucson, one copy is in English, the other in Spanish. Brooklyn companies regularly sent them in English, Russian and Chinese.

Even some multilingual junk mail arrives. We have to wonder how many trees were chopped down to make two or more linguistic sets of those big, fat election pamphlets.

Banks could save overhead, perhaps raise our interest rates, if they didn't have to install ATMs that asked for your money in several different tongues.

Cucumbers, cereal and, yes, even chimichangas could be marked down when supermarkets saved bundles with self-checkout stations giving directions in one language instead of two or three.

American teachers would really have it easy. They could teach in English, hand out homework in English and have students answer in English. Wow. What a way to learn.

We could go about daily life, here in these United States, knowing we'd truly understand and be understood.

That's really what America should be all about.

Ryn Gargulinski is an author, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter who has a master's in English literature, a minor in French and learned from a cab driver how to swear in Egyptian.
This column originally appeared in the Tucson Citizen.

COLUMN: Ryn: Dogs’ tale shows worst, best in us


Tucsonan Lizzie Mead is filled with gratitude this Thanksgiving - even though her dog's eye popped out.

Even though her other dog had massive internal bleeding and needed his spleen removed.

Even though Mead herself has not fully recovered from the hit-and- run that could have killed all three of them late last month.

"It was totally the best and worst of people all at once," said Mead, 35. "The worst of it was that someone could hit me and then run away."

The best was the way people rushed to assist Mead and her greyhounds, Opal and Rider, through the wreckage.

Mead was heading to a morning dog-park romp when her truck's camper shell was slammed by a speeding SUV-type vehicle at North Alvernon Way and East Speedway Boulevard.

The crash left Mead bloodied and bruised and her two greyhounds gone with the wind. They ran off in terror when the impact buckled the camper shell open.

"I freaked out," Mead said. "I became hysterical. I'm a 35-year-old woman with no kids. The dogs are my babies."

Bystanders promised to look for her dogs as Mead was taken away in an ambulance.

Rider, 5, was found limping around an auto center on the corner while Opal, 4, had scampered more than a mile away.

Folks got them both to Pima Pet Clinic, where they were opened up, stitched back together and Opal's eye was put back in its socket.

"They lost count," Mead said when asked how many stitches Rider received. "It was in the range of 800 to 900."

Mead got X-rays and ankle stitches and still has pain every time she bends one of her elbows.

"Sometimes it hurts just to open a door," she said. "Lifting something like a jug of milk is not going to happen."

She makes the jewelry for her Fourth Avenue store Silver Sea, so using her arm is pretty important.

The man who hit her abandoned his vehicle and took off on foot. In a searing coincidence, the vehicle's owner called to report his truck stolen 20 minutes after the crash.

Rather than focusing on the negative, like the jerk who hit her or the $14,000 vet bill, Mead is playing up the positive.

Like the folks who found her dogs, her vet and Arizona Greyhound Rescue, which helped make sure both dogs ended up at Pima Pet Clinic, and the clinic folks who saved her dogs' lives.

"The big thing I'm grateful for is that ,after they went through all this, they can go back to being normal, typical greyhounds," she said. "They will have no residual health issues. But they are a little afraid of cars now."

Mead said her store's employee and customers, too, are awesome. The usual part-time employee covered the two weeks Mead couldn't work. Some customers came in to do Christmas shopping early once they heard about the crash.

Mead's friends got in on the action by setting up a Greyhound Injury Fund blog that outlines Mead's story and allows folks to donate online to help with the massive vet bill.

"I am very lucky," Mead said.

How does she stay so upbeat?

Mead was quick with an answer: "I'm pretty much cheerful all the time. It's actually something that annoys a lot of people."

Mead's story illustrates so many truths.

Happy people are healthier people. Positive folks have been known to recover faster from disaster and stave off ailments and diseases.

Tucsonans have big hearts. This is repeatedly seen when tragedy strikes our two-legged, four-legged and even three-legged friends.

What goes around comes around. Mead has always reached out her own helping hand. She's volunteered at Arizona Greyhound Rescue, at area schools performing historical re-enactments and has been instrumental in working with kids in her neighborhood.

"I have a lot of street-kid friends," she says. "I want them to know there is more to life than just being street kids."

There is. There's gratitude. There's love. And there's always a couple of greyhounds.

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter who is grateful for dogs, rats, family and friends (not necessarily in that order). This column originally appeared in the Tucson Citizen.

NEWS: Complaints against local gyms triple since 2005


Lynn Hudson was enjoying her morning treadmill workouts last February at the Northwest Side Gold's Gym - until she was kicked out of the club for not paying a bill she had paid months earlier.

The gym had the wrong Lynn Hudson.

Eric Grigel joined Arizona Swim & Fitness in July, only to find his credit card was being billed twice each month, once by the gym and once by the gym's billing company.

His card continued to be billed after the club went out of business late last year.

Both Tucsonans got the runaround when they tried to solve their problems.

Neither complaint was resolved to their satisfaction.

Complaints about the more than 70 area health clubs have more than tripled, from 10 in 2005 to 35 in 2008, according to the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona.

Thirty percent of the complaints were resolved in 2005; 73 percent in 2006; 62 percent in 2007; and 54 percent in 2008.

"I would venture to guess that the health kick continues to grow in popularity and also that perhaps it wasn't until 2005 and 2006 that health clubs started demanding contracts," said Kim States, acting president of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona.

As evidenced by the plights of Hudson and Grigel, billing problems and customer service top the kinds of complaints involving health clubs.

Sanitary issues are another concern. The Pima County Health Department makes annual, unannounced visits to facilities that have pools and spas. The department closed down at least two pools and three spas in 2008 and found a few other violations.

"Relatively speaking, Pima County health clubs are in pretty good shape," department spokeswoman Patti Woodcock said. "But keep in mind what one person thinks is pretty good shape compared to another's is sometimes very different."

Tucson Racquet & Fitness Club, 4001 N. Country Club Road, has not received a single complaint from any of its 3,500 members over the past three years.

"We make people feel welcome," General Manager Bill Selby said of the family-owned club.
He said employees are willing to go beyond normal duties, and recently even changed a tire for a member who came in with a flat.

Joining a health club can cost hundreds of dollars a year. Dues vary greatly among the clubs, depending on the amenities, length of the contract and current specials.
Dealing with complaints
Area clubs with the most complaints from Dec. 2, 2005, through Dec. 2, 2008, are L.A. Fitness, with 36; Metro Fitness Inc., the parent company of Gold's Gym, with 25; and Arizona Swim & Fitness, with 19.

Complaints against another popular club, Bally Total Fitness, are filed with the Better Business Bureau in California, where Bally has its headquarters. No breakdown was available for the gym's two Tucson locations.

L.A. Fitness, with three locations in Tucson, had the longest list of complaints, but it also boasted a 100 percent resolution rate. In February, the health department shut down the L.A.
Fitness pool at 4240 N. First Ave. for murky water. The club rectified the situation the following day. The corporate office did not return calls for comment.

Gold's Gym resolved 56 percent of its complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau, but its most notable statistic may be the dramatic drop in them. Complaints against the 12,400-member gym plunged from 16 in 2007 to three in 2008.

"The construction was horrendous for everyone," said Kelly Palmiero, co-owner and director of operations for Gold's three locations. The East Side club, 5851 E. Speedway Blvd., and the
Northwest club, 7315 N. Oracle Road, were each under construction for more than a year.
Palmiero said renovations, which included a $750,000 remodeling of the Northwest club to include features such as two movie theater workout rooms, brought grumbling.

"No matter what you do, there is dust and debris," she said.

The health department closed the Northwest Gold's Gym's pool and three spas briefly in October, the former for insufficient chemical levels and the latter for exceeding temperatures of 104 degrees.

The downtown location, 110 S. Church Ave., voluntarily closed its pool in May to fix the chlorine levels, which were back up to par within three days. The health department found rust in the vents, cracks and crevices, and brown residue along the walls in the men's locker room, all of which have since been addressed.

The health department likewise found mold, damaged ceiling tiles and rust in the men's locker room and dirty mats in the abs room at the East Side gym in March. Those violations were also remedied.

Hudson, 56, was most upset with the way she was treated at the Northwest club. She said she was kicked out in the middle of her workout over a case of mistaken identity.

"I never received an apology," said Hudson, who had been a Gold's Gym member for 10 years.

The gym eventually admitted its mistake, she said, but refused to refund the 10 months left on her contract when she wanted to cancel.

"They said they couldn't do that," Hudson said. "They were bound by contract.

"My husband and I have been running a business for 17 years," she said of their family practice where she's a nurse and he's a physician. "I don't think you're bound by contract. You're bound by your reputation how you treat your clients."

Gold's Gym co-owner Palmiero said she is not allowed to discuss members' accounts, but said the gym has never kicked anyone out without a reason.

Grigel, 28, said he was treated shabbily when he tried to resolve the double-billing problem at Arizona Swim & Fitness, 1290 W. Prince Road.

Complaints against the company jumped from five in 2007 to 12 in 2008, with only 5 percent resolved. Many could not be pursued when it went out of business.

Grigel joined the gym to swim, but the pool closed for construction soon after he signed up, and he wanted out. The double billing just added to the frustration.

"I tried to cancel three separate times," he said. Each time he went to the club, he was told the manager was unavailable.

"One time they told me, 'He's not talking to any customers. He's sick of talking to people about it. You need to handle it with the billing company,' " Grigel said.
Grigel said he signed a one-year contract that he was told could be canceled at any time with no penalty. When he tried to cancel it, he was told he was in a two-year contract that came with penalties.

"I'm still being billed," he said. "It's still in the process of being resolved."

The location is still operating as a health club, but under the new name of Pro Fitness & Health. According to the woman who answered the phone, it's been operating under new ownership for the past three months.

The new owner did not return a call for comment.

The hundreds of Bally-owned clubs across the country amassed 2,880 complaints over the past three years, at least 73 percent of which were resolved.

Bally closed 19 of its locations following its Dec. 8 bankruptcy filing, including three in Phoenix. The two Tucson locations are slated to remain open, said company spokesman Larry Larsen.

Tucson Racquet & Fitness Club, with no complaints, has a personal touch not found in many larger chains, said Sally Viramontes, personnel and advertising manager, who has been with the club 30 years.

"It's family here," she said. "We treat each other with respect. It's not the commercial atmosphere. It's not just going through the mill."

General manager Selby, whose mother established the club in 1967, agreed.

"For many families this is their second home," he said. "We make them feel like that. They come in for breakfast. The parents play tennis and the kids swim in the pool. They reconvene for lunch. It's almost like a vacation every weekend for a lot of families."

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 14, 2009, issue of the Tucson Citizen.

FEATURE: Tucson shaggy dog headed to Westminster Kennel Club show


Tucson dog D'Artagnan has been featured on TV's "Animal Planet," entered and won his first show when he was only 6 months old and has since amassed so many ribbons that they probably weigh more than he does.

The 87-pound shaggy star, as one of the top five Bouviers des Flandres in the nation, has also been invited to the Westminster Kennel Club's 133rd Annual Dog Show in New York City.

The show, which starts Feb. 9 at Madison Square Garden, is considered as the greatest dog show in America if not the world. The 3-year-old's first visit to Westminster was two years ago and he made the finals.

Not bad for a dog that was basically born dead.

Both his handler Tracy Turner and his co-owner Mary Alice Bushey recall that fateful night all too well.

Mother dog Vinca began giving birth to what Turner and Bushey thought would be five puppies.

Instead there were only two. The female was delivered with no complications. The male needed help from the womb.

"I finally got him out," said Turner, "and he wasn't breathing."

Turner, who has worked with dogs for 25 years and whelped about 100 litters, kept rubbing the puppy's chest and giving him mouth to snout.

After more than an hour of this, Bushey said to let the dog go, there was something wrong with him.

Turner refused.

Mom dog Vinca then began to have more complications, so the two women loaded the dogs into a van to go to the vet.

"By now it's 5 a.m., I've been working for two hours on the puppy and all of a sudden he latches onto the mom's nipple," she said. Turner screamed with glee so loudly that Bushey nearly slammed on the brakes.

"He's never put a foot down wrong since," Turner said.

Every time he chalks up another win, Turner said, she also gets to rub it in that Bushey wanted to let him go.

"'Aren't you glad I saved that dog?' I ask her."

D'Artagnan is co-owned by Tucson breeder and Groomingdales Pet Salon owner Bushey and a couple in Phoenix, but he lives with handler Turner.

"He is so devoted to her," Bushey said. "When I ask him to do something he looks at me almost like he's flipping me off."

D'Artagnan, officially known as "Champion Desert Sage Musketeer," was so named because Turner was watching the movie "The Three Musketeers" when he was born.

His breed is well-known, even by those who don't think they are familiar with the Bouvier des Flandres.

"Remember the Wyle E. Coyote cartoons?" Turner asked. "That watchdog on the hill is a Bouvier des Flandres."

Bred to herd cattle, the Bouvier des Flandres is stocky, solid and powerful enough to not only herd in the cattle to be milked but to also haul the milk wagon once it's loaded.
But it's not just power and beauty that make D'Artagnan popular.

"People want to breed him for his attitude," Turner said. "You can't bring a kid by him without him rolling on his back and going 'Pet me, pet me!'"

He's also a certified service dog and a real ham.

"He loves to be at the dog shows," Bushey said. "He goes into his big metal crate at the show, lies there and watches everybody go by. Then when it's his turn it's like, 'Oh, boy! It's time to play!"

Turner added, "He turns into Mr. Macho. We have high hopes at Westminster."

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 17, 2009, issue of the Tucson Citizen.

NEWS: Narcotics cops say Tucson's gone to pot


You may be living next to a stash house and not know it.

With a record 1.2 million pounds of marijuana confiscated in Arizona from Oct. 1, 2006, to Sept. 30 - nearly half of it in Pima County - Tucson has developed a thriving business as a distribution hub.

The area is a way station where marijuana is stashed until it is moved to its ultimate destination, often on the East Coast.

"It's just a major, major stash house area," Counter Narcotics Alliance Sgt. Helen Hritz said of the Tucson area. "There can be 11,000 pounds in one house."

The alliance is made up of local and federal law enforcement agencies.

Smuggling has also become more constant, with no major spike in activity during harvest season and no lulls in between, Hritz said. The only difference harvest season makes is that the buds are fresher.

"There's no break in the action anymore," she said. "It's no longer seasonal. It's very much flowing year-round."

One of the Sheriff Department's recent seizures, on Oct. 22, included 11,000 pounds discovered in a home in the 1000 block of East Orange Grove Road.

One of the largest single busts in the history of the Pima County Sheriff's Department was 32,000 pounds - that's 16 tons - found in a house in the 11000 block of East Speedway Boulevard in 1984.

Stash houses are not confined to downtrodden neighborhoods. They can be found throughout the city and county, Tucson police Sgt. Mark Robinson said. He said they are almost always rental homes.

He said those running stash houses tend to be transient types because if they don't own the house, it is not seized by authorities.

"They have nothing to lose," Robinson said, "except their load."

Even if the drug does not stick around the house for long, its temporary presence can make for some perilous living.

Robinson said stash houses can be dangerous for neighborhoods because they become the target for home invasions by drug dealers or other criminals.

"They very often invade the wrong house," Robinson said. "Innocent people often become the victims."

He said the extreme level of violence of the invasions, coupled with high-powered weapons, can lead to hazardous conditions.

"They often have assault rifles," Robinson said. "The only thing that can stop that ammunition is a brick. It can go through wood frame, windows, doors."

Other drug smuggling activity can lead to high-speed chases when suspects flee the police, another situation that puts innocents at risk.

The Tucson area is especially suited for stash houses because of its network of roadways, Hritz said. In addition to a maze of back roads, two major interstates help smugglers.
Interstate 19 makes a beeline from Mexico directly to Tucson. Midvale Park, an area just west of I-19 and north of Valencia Road, was riddled with stash houses, home invasions and drug-induced violence until residents formed a watch group and took back their neighborhood last year, Robinson said.

Interstate 10 stretches from the Pacific Ocean to Jacksonville, Fla., and connects with a series of northbound routes along the way.

Arizona is a major drug-smuggling corridor for many of the same reasons it is the nation's busiest corridor for illegal immigration. Wide-open areas, rugged terrain and decoy loads give smugglers the openings they need to get drugs through the desert.

Even much of Florida's marijuana smuggling, which had its heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has moved to southern Arizona.

"We had well-established routes, not necessarily for drugs, but for human smuggling," said Counter Narcotics Alliance Sgt. Ramon Delatorre. "It wasn't like they had to make a new route. Now there is smuggling of undocumented aliens and narcotics at the same time."

Of the illegal drugs shuttled through the desert, marijuana is king.

"It's the largest type of narcotic we see and seize,'' Hritz said. "In the desert areas they blaze their own trails, carry the bundles for miles and miles.''

The desert is also a place brimming with Mexican drug cartels.

Now allied with Colombian cartels, Mexican smuggling rings rake in enough cash to purchase superior weaponry, bribe police or hire well-trained Mexican army deserters.

Mexican cartels earned an estimated $8 billion to $23 billion from U.S. drug sales in 2005 and run street distribution gangs in "almost every region of the United States," the Government Accountability Office reported.

"The only thing that holds the cartels back is their imagination," said Ramona Sanchez, Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman.

Drug smugglers in Arizona have been found carrying assault rifles or shoulder-fired rocket launchers.

When the National Guard built steel vehicle barriers on the Tohono O'odham Nation, smugglers built a ramp to drive over them.

Also, numerous tunnels have been dug under border fences to get drugs to the U.S. side.

In addition to the wide range of smuggling operations and the year-round availability of pot, the increase in pot seizures can also be attributed to an increase in law-enforcement manpower, said Border Patrol Agent Sean King.

He said the Border Patrol confiscated 305,390 pounds of marijuana in fiscal year 2002 in southern Arizona, when 1,800 agents guarded the border.
In the first 11 months of fiscal 2007, the Border Patrol, now expanded to 2,900 agents in southern Arizona, seized 754,298 pounds

A recent series of busts over a four-day period netted Border Patrol agents more than 9,000 pounds of marijuana.

The largest haul in that series included nearly 3,000 pounds found in two stolen vehicles abandoned after an off-road pursuit on the Tohono O'odham Nation on Nov. 12.

"There's a lot more area we can cover," King said. "In the past, we could cover the major smuggling routes. Now we can cover all the major routes and a lot of other routes."

In cities, one of the best ways to protect a neighborhood is to take part in a neighborhood watch, Robinson said.

"You should know your neighbors," he said. "You never know who's living next door."

Originally published in the Nov. 21, 2007, issue of the Tucson Citizen.