Judge Rex Stacey's Scott County courtroom is like a triage center for an epidemic.
"We're seeing multiple cases -- heroin-related cases -- every week", Stacey said.
But it's no longer just business for Stacey. Now, it's personal. He lost a loved one to a heroin overdose about a year ago.
"It's life shattering, absolutely life shattering," said Stacey. "I mean, to the point that you wonder if you'll ever live a happy day the rest of your life."
He didn't share the story of his loss with FOX 9, but he openly shares his grief with the heroin users who end up in his Shakopee courtroom.
"I talk to them privately and I tell them what happened to me and they break down," he recalled. "Had one crying in the jury box this morning, (a) heroin user."
Yet, even though he's a part of the justice system, the current system upsets him. In fact, Stacey said the only thing that momentarily takes away his sadness is that he knows his discontent is shared.
"I know local law enforcement is incredibly frustrated," Stacey told FOX 9.
A FOX 9 Investigation found some heroin peddlers are getting a free pass on punishment, and narcotics officers say that in a way, the government is stifling efforts to crackdown on the heroin trade.
"They come back. They come back multiple times," an undercover officer with the Minneapolis Police Department told FOX 9 News.
Officers took FOX 9 Investigator Jeff Baillon on a recent heroin bust.
Most of the local heroin supply comes from Mexico, and some of the people who bring it to Minnesota streets are illegal immigrants, like the man police tracked down while FOX 9 cameras were rolling.
During the bust, police found lots of cash, a bag of what's believed to be heroin and a suspect who didn't speak English. Police discovered the man was carrying a Mexican ID and he was here illegally. The man acknowledged it's not the first time he's crossed the border without permission.
"He has been deported from Utah. He had heroin and cocaine charges," said an interpreter who spoke with the suspect.
Officials said this scenario is all too familiar for narcotics officers. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says it has made it a priority to oust those who are in the country illegally and are committing crimes -- but local officers say that just creates a revolving door for repeat offenders.
"It is extremely frustrating because it's just a revolving door," said an undercover narcotics officer.
The FOX 9 Investigators tracked the case of Gonzalo Robles. According to police, he was previously busted in Las Vegas under a different name; however, the charges were dismissed and he was deported.
Robles was picked up again in Denver using another alias. He served some prison time, and was deported again. Last spring, he was arrested in Hennepin County on charges related to possession of heroin. Yet, before he went on trial in Minnesota, ICE put him on a plane, sending him to the Mexican border. A few sunsets later, Robles was back in Minneapolis. In November, he was arrested yet again, this time on charges of selling heroin.
"I've seen people who have been deported two and three times," Stacey said.
When asked what should be happening to repeat offenders, Stacey replied, "Charge them. Try them. Sentence them."
Police told the FOX 9 Investigators that the Mexican drug cartels are supplying much of the heroin that's getting into hands of Minnesota teens.
In December, narcotics investigators were tipped off about a man who was renting the basement of a home in Shakopee. Court records show they raided it and discovered a 3-pound stash of heroin worth an estimated $600,000, as well as a hand gun. They arrested Armando Diaz-Gomez, of Mexico. He's has since been deported.
The FOX 9 Investigators learned authorities in Scott County wanted Diaz Gomez charged in federal court because of his deportation history. He was sent back to Mexico twice before -- in 2009 and 2010, but neither time was drug related. Scott County attorneys said they felt more serious federal charges would send a message that Minnesota is taking a hard-line against anyone who gets booted out of the country and keeps coming back.
Yet, when the FOX 9 Investigators asked Minnesota's U.S. Attorney about the case, reporter Jeff Baillon was told it was not a case they would normally take.
"Diaz-Gomez is not -- at this time -- deemed a serious criminal," said a spokesperson. "We aggressively prosecute illegal aliens with prior serious criminal convictions."
Diaz-Gomez's only known prior offense was driving without a license.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declined to do an on-camera interview for this story. FOX 9 wanted to ask how often ICE sends out illegal aliens who have criminal records. ICE told us last year that there were nearly 3,500 of those cases just in metro area, which is an increase of nearly 700 cases when compared to 2010.
"Major drug crimes involving weapons, large amounts -- you can't condone it. You can't," said Stacey.
If Diaz-Gomez had not been charged by Scott County attorneys, he would've received another plane ride home courtesy of the American taxpayer. Instead, Diaz-Gomez's first hearing was in Stacey's courtroom -- but what happened next shocked those in the courtroom.
Lauro Riera was in the courtroom that day as a member of the public. Instead of just observing, however, he used a cell phone to get video of the judge and prosecutor. Since the recording was illegal, Stacey had Riera placed in contempt of court and taken to jail.
Riera claimed he had "no ill intent" and he was sent by a friend to keep track of what was going on, but narcotics investigators say they believe both Riera and Diaz-Gomez are connected to a Mexican cartel -- and the video was a tool meant to intimidate.
Riera is currently behind bars and will have to serve a total of 90 days. ICE declined to specify whether Riera is in here legally.
Heroin Effects Seen in Minnesota Homes
For one Minnesota mother, things spiraled out of control. Debbie Kidder lost her son to an overdose of heroin.
"We came home and found him dead in his bed," said Kidder. "It makes you sick. It really makes you sick."
For most of his life, Eric Kidder was an all-American kid, and he was an honor student at Fridley High School. He captained both varsity soccer and hockey, but started using heroin as a senior.
"Everything that he had, his abilities were all stripped from him. He was brain damaged," Kidder recalled.