2009-11-04 / Front Page

9 from Letcher charged in drug bust

Nine suspected drug pushers in Letcher County were among more than 300 alleged dealers arrested in a crackdown on a multi-state prescription pill pipeline, a bust that Kentucky officials say is the largest in the state's history.

The 322 suspects arrested on Oct. 28 were among about 500 suspects who face charges related to illegal trafficking of prescription drugs in eastern Kentucky, officials said.

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer said the roundup, a joint state-federal effort, comes after a three-year investigation and is "striking at the heart of major drug trafficking organizations and crippling illegal prescription drug pipelines that are running from Florida into Kentucky."

"The biggest percent of the drugs in Letcher County is coming from out of the state," said Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb. "We joined together with other agencies to do something about the trafficking of drugs into the county."

Arrested by the Letcher County Sheriff 's Department on drug trafficking charges on Oct. 28 were:

• Kakina Lynn Bentley, 31, of 161 Rocky Hollow, Jenkins

• Betty S. Donlow, 46, of 24 Little Oak Street, Jenkins

• Heather R. Hall, 29, of Seco

• Margaret Ann Harris, 47, of Seco

• Todd Steven Jones, 32, of Mayking

• Allen C. Mullins, 32, of 778 Highway 3400, Jenkins

• Stanley Lee Sexton, 57, of 7759 Highway 931 North, Colson

• Sarah Dain Thompson, 26, of 850 Mountain Breeze Road, Jenkins

• Brenda Lee Webb, 48, of 512 Highway 3410, Mayking

Webb said when the investigation began, people would go north to get drugs but have since changed direction.

"They'll go to the doctor in Georgia and get a load of pills and bring them into the county," said Webb. "They would gather in van loads and go to the doctor and would bring thousands of pills back into the county. Then the Florida connections started coming into play."

Webb said he has a deputy assigned to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA) which was one of the agencies directly involved in the investigation.

Authorities have not identified a leader in the drug trafficking, but did pinpoint one suspect who allegedly headed a group of 13 other accused traffickers.

That group, which operated from 2005 to 2008, traveled to Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida to obtain methadone and oxycodone pills to sell in eastern Kentucky, authorities said. The group's alleged leader faces at least 20 years and possibly life in prison if convicted.

Kentucky uses an electronic prescription monitoring program to try to prevent abuses.

Shelley Johnson, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general, said after the state started the system, many residents migrated to other states, particularly South Florida, to obtain multiple prescriptions from pain clinics. They then returned and sold the pills, she said.

"We are well aware that due to other states not having similar systems, we have pipelines that are emerging to bring too many of these addictive substances into our Commonwealth," Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said.

Because Florida was the largest of just a handful of states without such tracking, it had become the nation's leading supplier of prescription drugs obtained for illicit purposes.

A bill signed this year by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist would set up such a system, designed to crack down on so-called "doctor shopping" by addicts and drug dealers who flock to Florida from throughout the Southeast.

Federal Drug Enforcement Administration officials say South Florida's Broward County, where doctors wrote prescriptions for more than 6.5 million oxycodone pills from June to December 2008, is the nation's top supplier of the narcotic.

In Kentucky, Brewer said that the number of illegal pills purchased or confiscated as part of the state police investigation numbered "in the tens of thousands." He said authorities had not yet determined a street value for the seized pills.

Last year, 877 deaths in Kentucky were caused by prescription drug overdoses, Brewer said.

Bob McBride with the U.S. Attorney's Office said he is unaware of charges against any doctors in the investigation.

Brewer said the majority of the state-level charges were for trafficking in controlled substances, offenses that could land people in prison for up to 20 years if convicted.

McBride said the federal charges include conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of controlled substances — mostly methadone and OxyContin— as well as money laundering.

Authorities got a glimpse into the trans-state pill-peddling operations in 2006 when investigators uncovered a group in eastern Kentucky that made trips to Philadelphia to obtain prescription drugs, said Kentucky State Police Capt. Kevin Payne.

"That was the first, I guess the tip of the iceberg," said Payne, commander of the drug enforcement/ special investigations unit for the eastern end of Kentucky.

Compiled from Mountain Eagle and Associated Press reports.

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