School bus driver charged in drug case

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By Carol A. Clark

A swarm of undercover agents wearing SWAT-like attire, and black hoods revealing just their eyes, raided a Western Area home Thursday afternoon.

 Information developed through an investigation by the state’s Region III multi-jurisdiction drug interdiction task force led the agents to 738 43rd St. where they arrested James Kovalenko.

They also confiscated 3 pounds of marijuana inside Kovalenko’s home for which he has been charged with one count of distribution of narcotics.

“We did locate weapons in the house … there were a multitude of guns … he didn’t offer any resistance … he’s apparently a gun collector … there’s no weapons charges,” task force leader State Police Lt. Juan Martinez said.

Kovalenko, 50, is a bus driver for the Los Alamos Public Schools.

“He worked for the district previously, left for a while, came back in 2007 and has been a bus driver ever since,” said Human Resources Manager James Telles this morning.

“We haven’t been officially notified of the arrest and until we are, we have placed Mr. Kovalenko on administrative leave. Once we are notified that he has been charged, he will be terminated immediately.”

Superintendent Mary McLeod also discussed the situation this morning, saying every bus driver receives an in-depth background check during his or her pre-employment process.

“Our protocol is that besides the initial background check, we continually check drivers on a random basis, as well as when a suspicion is raised,” she said.

Telles said every applicant, no matter what the position, is fingerprinted and checked through the FBI’s national system.

Police records verify Kovalenko’s clean record with the exception of a couple minor traffic tickets and a DWI some 15 years ago, which perhaps is outside of the statute of limitations.

Telles is looking into that situation.                                                                 

Transportation Director Keith Rosenbaum has confirmed that Kovalenko drove Route 3, which includes trips from North Mesa to Los Alamos High School and to and from Aspen Elementary School.

He will remain in jail in Los Alamos pending an initial court hearing.

Los Alamos Police detectives Shari Mills and Ron Binion assisted task force members in the Kovalenko arrest Thursday.

Multi-jurisdictional task forces are best described as cooperative programs involving two or more separate law enforcement agencies with different jurisdictional responsibilities, according the New Mexico Public Safety website.

Agencies forming these task forces have formal agreements to work together as a team to enforce drug laws, usually with a focus on street, mid- or high-level traffickers.

The task force focuses on disrupting and dismantling all levels of drug smuggling, trafficking and money laundering organizations through investigation, interdiction and dismantlement of methamphetamine labs.

Also, in most cases a prosecutor is integrated with the operations of the task force.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com, 662-4185 ext. 25 or visit her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.