A confidential informant gave an investigator in the Athens County prosecutor’s office a tip in late February: This prescription-drug ring? It’s huge.
Now, authorities say, they have dismantled an operation that might have put as much as $3 million worth of painkillers on the streets of southeastern Ohio with the arrest on Friday of a former Detroit police officer. He is accused of being the architect of the business and the supplier.
As if unraveling a sweater, investigators tugged at each lead they came across after that tip, trying to trace the criminal enterprise. They had so far arrested nearly a dozen suspects — including a former Chauncey, Ohio, police chief — but there had been nothing quite like what happened on Friday.
That’s when, on the order of Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn and armed with a 12-count indictment that includes racketeering, drug-possession and aggravated drug-trafficking charges, authorities arrested Brandon Jorge Allen at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Blackburn, speaking by phone yesterday from Detroit, where he was overseeing the issuance of a search warrant, said that Allen, 29, was trying to leave the country. The U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security helped to stop him.
Federal authorities said yesterday they aren’t sure when Allen will be brought back to Ohio to answer to the charges.
How did an ex-cop from Michigan — one who in 2008 pleaded guilty to extortion charges stemming from an attempt to force a store clerk to pay to avoid arrest — end up in Athens?
“Mr. Allen said Athens County was a gold mine,” Blackburn said.
“For years, he’s been the source of a drug that is ruining the lives of our citizens.”
The indictment says the drug ring dealt almost exclusively in the high-powered painkiller oxycodone, which generally sells for about $1 a milligram on the streets.
Svea Maxwell is prevention coordinator with the
317 Board, which oversees addiction and mental-health services in Athens, Hocking and Vinton counties.
She said these recent high-profile drug arrests are making a difference: “The community is happy to see the action.”
Many agencies are working together to make a dent in the drug business, and that’s great, she said, but she hopes an equal focus is put on treatment in the aftermath of the criminal cases.
“We hope this opens roads and pathways to get people help,” she said. “The crime comes from people trying to feed their own addiction.”
Blackburn said that’s not the case with Allen. He’s a businessman, not an addict, the prosecutor said.
Records show that when Allen was convicted on a federal charge of “extortion under color of official right” in August 2008, he was sentenced to one day in prison and given credit for time served. The Athens indictment alleges that he started trafficking drugs in Athens County in early 2009.
Blackburn said this is the largest narcotics investigation ever undertaken locally. He said the entire operation centered on the village of Glouster but affected the nearby villages of Murray City, Nelsonville, The Plains and Chauncey, as well as communities in Meigs County.
He said locals would meet Allen or his runners in the parking lots of businesses on I-75 in Perrysburg in northern Ohio and carry the drugs back to Appalachia. Allen also sometimes traveled to Athens County himself.
After several Athens County residents were arrested in recent months, the road led to Detroit and Allen, who owns a business there called Star Status Music Group.
The cooperation of the others was critical to Allen’s arrest, Blackburn said.
“I think some people saw this train wasn’t stopping, and they decided to get first-class seats while some were still available,” he said.
Assistant Prosecutor John Haseley said the resources mustered locally for the investigation were unprecedented. Blackburn said that when time is factored in, it’s probably a $100,000 investigation so far, and it isn’t done.
It has taken detectives and prosecutors to West Virginia and South Carolina. Recorded jail calls and social-media accounts have played a key role in deciphering who is involved, Blackburn said.
The indictment shows that authorities are moving to take Allen’s business and personal property in Detroit and a 2004 Buick LeSabre through forfeiture. They also seized a 2014 Mercedes-Benz worth more than $100,000.
Holly Zachariah - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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