Whitesburg KY

Bust should slow OxyContin flow

Detroit-to-Letcher connection brought 1000 pills every week

Search warrants were executed at two homes in Letcher County and a motel in Knott County after a man arrested in Michigan admitted to authorities that he had been supplying local drug dealers with at least 1,000 80-milligram tablets of OxyContin each week.

Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb confirmed this week that the homes of Rick Anderson of Haymond and Ada Lucille Mullins of Fleming-Neon were searched on May 30. A similar search was also conducted at the Route 80 Motel in Hindman.

According to Webb, the federal search warrants were issued based on information police have learned during a lengthy investigation into reports that massive quantities of OxyContin were being transported from Detroit for resale by drug dealers in Letcher, Knott, Perry, and Breathitt counties.

Three people have been arrested in connection with the investigation so far, including Joseph Hall, a former Letcher County man who has admitted transporting at least 130,000 OxyContin tablets from Detroit to the Kentucky River area during the last 2-1/2 years. A Knott County woman and her son have also been arrested.

Hall, formerly of Fleming-Neon, was taken into custody in Detroit on the morning of May 21 by agents with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. He is charged with conspiring to knowingly and intentionally distribute a quantity of pills containing oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance.

According to affidavits filed with U.S. District Courts in Michigan and Kentucky, DEA agents in Detroit were told on May 20 by fellow agents in Kentucky that Hall would be arriving from Kentucky the next day to buy a large amount of OxyContin.

“On May 21 at approximately 7:40 a.m., agents from DEA Detroit and DEA Kentucky began surveil- lance on (the business),” says an affidavit signed by DEA Task Force Officer Richard Dalrymple. “At approximately 9:35 a.m., a silver Chevy Cavalier driven by Hall arrived at the location (and) Hall exited the vehicle. At 9:40 a.m. Hall had returned to his vehicle with a black bag in his hand. Hall entered his vehicle and drove away followed by DEA surveillance. At approximately 9:50 a.m., a traffic stop was conducted on Hall. Agents and officer searched his vehicle and located approximately 500 80-milligram OxyContin tablets inside.”

Dalrymple’s affidavit also says that Hall “stated that he has been selling approximately 1,000 OxyContin tablets a week for the past two years.”

According to a separate affidavit from DEA Special Agent Michael V. Kersey, “Hall advised that he had been purchasing these OxyContin tablets from sources in the Detroit area (and) that he would transport the tablets to Knott, Letcher, Breathitt, and Perry counties where he would resale the tablets to various individuals. Hall stated that he would pay between $30 and $32 per tablet and would resale them for between $50 and $60 each.”

By Hall’s own admission, he has earned as much as $3.9 million since he began bringing OxyContin back to the area from Michigan. With drug abusers now paying between $80 and $100 for an 80-milligram tablet of OxyContin, the network of dealers being supplied by Hall may well have generated an additional $5.2 million by preying on addicts in the area.

“Just think how many deaths have been caused by this operation,” said Sheriff Webb, referring to Hall and the local dealers Hall has been supplying. Webb said evidence gathered by his office indicates that Hall has been selling as many as 2,000 tablets of OxyContin each week. Webb believes that Hall was responsible for 75 percent of the OxyContin being sold illegally in Letcher County at the time he was arrested in Detroit.

Webb said the sheriff’s office began investigating Hall more than a year ago when Deputy Sheriff Logan Clemens, who has since died, learned that Hall was transporting large quantities of OxyContin from Detroit. Webb said the sheriff’s office was contacted a short time later by DEA agents asking that the probe become a “combined investigation.” The call came after Hall’s name also surfaced during an investigation being conducted in Knott County by officers with Operation UNITE, the anti-drug initiative founded by U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers.

Webb said the number of lawenforcement agencies involved in the investigation of Hall and the local dealers to whom he was selling has since grown to five – the DEA, the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force (HIDTA), the Kentucky State Police East Drug Enforcement Branch, Operation UNITE, and the sheriff’s office. Representatives from each of the agencies were present while searches were being conducted at the homes of Anderson, who served as a deputy sheriff in the 1980s, and Ms. Mullins, a former girlfriend of Hall’s who was once married to late Fleming-Neon Mayor James Seals.

Neither Anderson nor Mullins was arrested after the May 20 searches were conducted. Two persons from Knott County were arrested May 23 in connection with the investigation. They are Teresa Sturgill, of Steer Fork, and her son, Michael Lumpkins. Sturgill is charged with first-degree trafficking and first-degree possession of OxyContin. Lumpkins is charged with firstdegree trafficking in OxyContin.

Webb said the arrest of Hall shows how important it is for federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies to work together to try to stop the flow of narcotics by concentrating on major suppliers instead of neighborhood addicts.

“If we’re going to get a handle on this we’ve got to get the suppliers,” Webb said.

Webb said smaller dealers are still getting attention from his office, including those who are now visiting doctors in West Virginia to get prescriptions for the painkiller hydrocodone and the anti-anxiety pill Xanax, some of which they are bringing back to Letcher County and selling illegally.

“We are working on an angle dealing with that at this time,” Webb said. “Our doctors aren’t the problem. It’s all coming from out of state.”

The federal government’s case against Hall is being handled by Asst. U.S. Attorney Roger West of Lexington. No hearing date or trial date has been set.

OxyContin is a highly-addictive pain reliever that contains that narcotic oxycodone and comes in 10, 20, 40, 80, and 160 milligram dosages. While designed to be released over time, addicts are able to achieve a heroin-like high from the tablets by crushing them and inhaling them through their nose or by injection after dissolving them in water. OxyContin has been responsible for a staggering number of overdose deaths in Letcher County alone – estimated by law-enforcement officials to be as many as 30 a year – since being introduced to the market in 1996.

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