EAU CLAIRE — Two residential burglaries in Chippewa County and theft of a boat motor from a Lake Hallie dealership are tied to massive drug investigation in Eau Claire County, law enforcement officials said today.

Seventeen people were arrested last week and five others are still at-large in the investigation of the sale of methamphetamines, crack cocaine, cocaine, heroin, marijuana and prescription drugs.

Police said there were various items stolen as a result of the drug activity, including a 40 horsepower boat motor from Boaters Choice, 2644 Highway 53, three rifles and one pistol.

Detective Travis Quella of the Eau Claire Police Department said the two residential burglaries in Chippewa County happened in March.

"The reports will be referred to the Chippewa County District Attorney's office and they will have the reports by the end of the week," Quella said in a news conference Tuesday morning, also attended by Eau Claire Police Chief Jerry Matysik and Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer.

"We were able to connect the Eau Claire and Chippewa County cases," said Quella, whose work on a single burglary led to the massive investigation.

Last Friday, over 80 law enforcement officials from agencies including the Chippewa Falls Police Department, Chippewa County Sheriff's Department, Menomonie Police Department and Dunn County Sheriff's Department served 17 search warrants.

"This investigation is a very good example of people committing crimes to fuel their drug habits," Matysik.

He said the drug activity was not organized, but rather several different crimes. "It's an example on how these crimes are connected to drug activity," he said.

"Cocaine trafficking is pretty prevalent in this area," Matysik said.

Sheriff Cramer said he's concerned about prevalent methamphetamine use in the region.

"The meth problem in Milwaukee is miniscule (compared to) West Central Wisconsin," Cramer said, adding that meth addicts have only a 5 percent chance of recovering from their addiction.

"It's here to stay," he said of meth use.

"It's a scary drug. It's extremely powerful in how it changes the brain," Matysik said. "I'm concerned about how it's going to affect our region and our quality of life."

Some of the 17 people arrested are repeaters, Cramer said. "Some of these people have been a thorn in our side for some time."

None of the arrested could be classified as being "big fish" in the drug trade, Cramer said. In a typical investigation, more information comes out from the suspects. Some bigger crimes may be solved as a result, he said.

Those arrested include (addresses of the suspects were not available):

William Woodington, eight counts of burglary and another four burglary counts are expected to be charged; Dale Amundson, delivery of cocaine and meth; Calvin Jones, possession of drug paraphernalia; Rickey Callins, delivery of heroin and delivery of cocaine; Tina Cruz, possession with intent to deliver marijuana; Santiago DeMars, delivery of meth and carrying a concealed weapon;

Sean Eslinger, two counts of burglary and felony receiving stolen property; James Gardner, delivery of cocaine, Glenn Gawrysiak, delivery of THC-felony possession of stolen property;

Shannon Murphy, delivery of meth; Jason Rezarch, delivery of cocaine; Candice Rogers, delivery of cocaine; Sammy Stanley, delivery of cocaine, Jesse McNamara, forgery PTAC; Delann McGloun, delivery of cocaine and maintaining a drug house; James Pettis, three counts of burglary, and James Freiberg, delivery of cocaine and maintaining a drug house.

Still at large: a juvenile wanted for delivery of marijuana; Roosevelt Spencer, delivery of meth; Jesse Zabler, delivery of marijuana; Valerie Johnson, delivery of cocaine, and Andre Simmons, delivery of crack cocaine.

Two other felony investigations are continuing, Cramer said.

No dollar amount has been given to the amount of drugs involved in the operation.

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