MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Local, state and federal authorities announced Tuesday morning that 39 people were arrested pursuant to a 163-count federal indictment that charged 41 people with operating an extensive, multi-state heroin trafficking ring.
At a press conference held at the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld said the investigation, which started in November, was “unprecedented for the Northern West Virginia District.”
“The scope of the investigation is unprecedented, the surveillance employed is unprecedented and the amount of arrests in this sweep unprecedented,” he said. “We have never been in a better position to eradicate heroin in the Eastern Panhandle than we are today.”
Police say Brian Alexander Hall, 27, of Baltimore, Maryland, coordinated the large ring, selling two or more kilograms a month to 41 redistributors, 34 of whom were based in West Virginia. Over the course of an investigation led by Special Agent in Charge Scott Smith, of the FBI, the Eastern Panhandle Drugs and Violent Crimes Task Force and the West Virginia State Police, authorities allegedly uncovered how Hall communicated with the heroin distributors and what routes the suspects took in transporting the heroin from Baltimore to the Eastern Panhandle.
According to Ihlenfeld, “thousands of dollars and a substantial amount of heroin” was recovered during the investigation. Two firearms were also recovered.
Starting at about 5 a.m. Tuesday, police in Berkeley County and Jefferson County, as well as in other jurisdictions, began forming arrest teams of six to eight officers, some in uniforms and others in plain clothes. By 9 a.m., according to Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty, most of the suspects were in custody. Two suspects, Roma Michelle Bland, 37, of Martinsburg, and James Wesley Faircloth, 34, had been at large but were in custody as of Tuesday night, according to Eastern Regional Jail records.
“Usually, with these kinds of sweeps, you might catch half of them,” Dougherty said. “When people who have been buying and selling drugs hear that people they’re dealing with are getting arrested, they start laying low, so they’re hard to find after that first day. … But I hear we have eyes on the two we didn’t find, so I’m hoping we’ll have a clean sweep.”
Ihlenfeld said all the arrests were performed without incident.
“It’s been a pretty successful morning,” he said. “Because of all the work done prior to these arrests, law enforcement were able to make these arrests efficiently, effectively and were able to make sure no one got hurt, whether they were an officer, a defendant or a bystander.”
One person who was not named in the indictment was also arrested for possessing heroin during the sweep, Ihlenfeld said.
Berkeley County Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster said about half his department engaged in the sweep, including having members of the Special Response Team on standby “just in case.” He said Tuesday’s sweep was an “example of agencies cooperating to fight heroin.”
“I think it’s great to see federal, state, county and city authorities working together to fight this problem,” he said. “If we can continue this level of cooperation, I believe we may be able to really put a dent in the heroin market. … I would like to thank the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area initiative for providing us the resources to conduct a collaborative investigation like this.”
However, Tuesday’s sweep will not be the end of the area’s heroin epidemic, Ihlenfeld said.
“The projections of heroin coming from Mexico for 2016 to 2017 do not look good,” he said. “We need to become better at prevention and more creative at treatment in order to curb this problem. … However, we won’t stop enforcing our federal laws and we will continue to aggressively pursue heroin distributors.”
Ihlenfeld added, “You can expect to see more round-ups like this in the future.”
Most of the indictments were for conspiracy to distribute heroin, distribution of heroin and transporting heroin over interstate lines. An indictment is just an accusation of charges and anyone named in an indictment should be presumed innocent unless they plead guilty or are convicted by a jury.
The following West Virginia residents were arrested in the sweep:
Jared Michale Belanger, 35, of Martinsburg
Lindsay Bohrer, 37, of Berkeley Springs
Veronica Gladden, 32, of Martinsburg
Harmony Hahn, 34, of Martinsburg
James Francis Hansen Jr., 48, of Berkeley Springs
Javier Lewis Howard, 32, of Martinsburg
James Mine Jenkins, 36, of Martinsburg
Jessica Kesecker, 33, of Berkeley Springs
Brandon Kidwell, 23, of Berkeley Springs
Darla Kisner, 29, of Martinsburg
Jeffery David Murphy, 34, of Martinsburg
Brandon Lee Odell, 32, of Inwood
Scott Andrew Ours, 32, of Martinsburg
Cassandra Elaine Riggs, 25, of Martinsburg
James Michael Ross, 32, of Martinsburg
Cortney Balire Saylor, 29, of Martinsburg
Frederick Smitherman, 36, of Inwood
William Thomas Stine, 39, of Martinsburg
Cameron Stinebaugh, 28, of Berkeley Springs
Teddy Edward Threadgill, 46, of Harpers Ferry
Bruce Morton Vaudrien Jr., 45, of Kearneysville
Michelle Lynn Warnick, 32, of Kearneysville
William Lee Wasson, 38 of Falling Waters
Sarah Marie Weant, 26, of Kearneysville
James R. Dove, 30, of Keyser
The following people were arrested in other jurisdictions:
Shawn Blain Bowers, 36, of Braddock Heights, Maryland
Theresa Brewer, 61, of Braddock Heights, Maryland
Kenneth Bryan Crowley, 38, of Rockville, Maryland
Robert Hamilton Shanley-Sexton, 23, of Gaithersburg, Maryland
Craig Rhodes, 46, of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
Veronica Thomas, 24, of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
Clinton Dunlap, 31, of Martinsburg, and Steward Eugene Whitehead, 29, of Inwood, were already in state custody during the time of the arrests.
– Staff writer Henry Culvyhouse can be contacted at 304-263-8931, ext. 215.