NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – On Wednesday, May 17, Gallup officials and Navajo Nation leaders met to discuss the status of recent missing persons cases. The meeting primarily addressed ongoing healthcare fraud schemes, luring Native Americans to “sober houses” in Arizona.

“Early on, our law enforcement personnel knew we had a problem,” Chief Toadlena-Pablo said, regarding 2022 incidents her department investigated. “Our public service officers, who are out and about in the community, really know our vulnerable population.”

The Gallup Police Department investigated and closed 17 “sober house” cases in 2022, with three remaining open. So far this year, the department has closed one case and 12 remain open.

The “sober house” cases are an attempt to persuade people to come to Arizona for behavioral health services. To combat the issue, the Gallup Police Department has incorporated behavioral health providers into its discussions. They have also begun community outreach to raise awareness for the fraud schemes.

“A lot of people probably don’t have access to the Internet or cellphone usage, so the outreach is what was really important for us to do,” she said. “Meaning going out on foot, having these flyers, and talking to those in our area. That was something we wanted them to know, to be aware of your surroundings and look out for one another.”

To increase outreach success, Delegate Dr. Andy Nez proposed providing translated messaging to community members. He even offered his time to help translate outreach materials into the Diné language.

Other focuses in the discussion were increased collaboration among agencies and the inclusion of bilingual radio updates. Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty also emphasized that she “wants to be sure there is no victim shaming or blaming.”

Reports were also presented regarding missing persons cases so far in 2023: 32 juvenile cases have been closed by the Gallup department, with four still open, and 21 adult cases have been closed with nine still open. From non-Gallup jurisdictions, seven cases have been reported as being closed and one remains open.