SALT LAKE CITY - A Salt Lake City Justice Court judge was arrested on felony drug charges on Saturday.
Judge Virginia Ward, 45, was arrested and charged with intent to distribute.
Officials with the Drug Enforcement Agency said Ward was part of a drug distribution ring involving several western states.
"We are expecting to put a ripple into the trafficking of opioids, Oxycontin, Oxycodone, in the west with this investigation,” said Frank Smith, Assistant Special Agent with the Rocky Mountain Division of the DEA.
Drug agents said Ward, using an alias, opened a mailbox at a U.S. P.O. Box facility in Salt Lake City.
After months of surveillance, they caught a piece of mail coming in from out of state. Inside, they found 338 Oxycodone pills, worth up to $10,000.
"A package arrived. The DEA Metro executed a search warrant, recovered the package and arrested the judge," Smith said.
Her arrest is just one step towards shutting down a much bigger operation, though, according to Smith, who said they honed in on the judge after a lead came in from California, where DEA agents are investigating another link in the distribution chain.
"It's a significant case. And whenever you arrest anybody in a command and control structure, which we will be looking at in California and Nevada, it causes a ripple effect down the chain, and Salt Lake City is at the end of the chain," Smith said.
Smith wouldn't specify if they caught the judge receiving other packages through the P.O. Box, or if anyone else in the justice system was involved.
"The judge will have her day in court. However, we are held to a higher standard, and it shows the effect that these narcotics have on every segment of our population,” he said.
Ward was released immediately after she was booked into jail Saturday night. According to a statement from Utah State Courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer, Ward has been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of impending criminal charges.
Ward was appointed to the Salt Lake City Justice Court in July 2002. She manages the Justice Court's Focus Program, which involves repeat DUI offenders.