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The group from Wythe and Pulaski counties is charged with dealing drugs from 2010 through 2012.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Five members of a trafficking ring that was active in Southwest Virginia have admitted to doling out illegal drugs that one of them said he received in bulk shipments from abroad.
The group members, from Wythe and Pulaski counties, brought an illicit supply of controlled substances and steroids from India, Pakistan, China and Mexico to Southwest Virginia, according to a prosecutor’s statement read in court.
All five entered guilty pleas Monday to one count of running a federal drug distribution conspiracy involving the distribution of controlled substances. The conspiracy was under way in 2010 and continued until Dec. 17, 2012, the charge said.
Court records don’t say how much inventory the group handled, but that could be addressed when the five are sentenced in mid-November. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
A prescription drug-abuse epidemic is plaguing parts of Southwest Virginia, according to law enforcement authorities who report hundreds of accidental fatal overdoses related to ingesting medicine for the high, and who also report many larcenies and fraud related to getting the drugs or the money to buy them.
The region from Interstate 77 west is the worst-hit part of the state. In some situations, employers “cannot get enough employees that can pass a drug screen to be able to staff a particular business,” said Rebecca Holmes, outpatient services director for Abingdon-based Highlands Community Services.
For the user, common sources of pills are people undergoing medical treatment who have prescriptions, such as friends or family members; others are doctors who aren’t aware that the user is faking an injury or ailment or seeing multiple doctors. In addition, doctors have been prosecuted for prescribing outside the letter of the law.
Though still uncommon, some of the drugs of abuse are coming not from U.S. pharmaceutical companies and the pharmacies that distribute their products, but from suspect foreign sources.
David Wade Coleman, 37, one of the five convicted this week, told an investigator that he was part of a drug ring active inside and outside the United States and received large shipments of controlled substances that had not been prescribed by a doctor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Neese said in a summary of case facts.
The Wytheville man said he re distributed the drugs in Virginia and other states in outgoing shipments of 100 to 10,000 pills, Neese’s statement said.
Busts involving bulk shipments of foreign-supplied illegal prescription drugs are not common in Southwest Virginia, said Lawrence Findley, a Virginia State Police special agent focused on drug diversion cases who is not involved in the latest case.
The fact that that’s happened “does shine a whole new light on the issue and problem,” said Robert Hiss, assistant Pulaski County administrator. “This is very troubling and concerning if availability in our communities is that prevalent.”
Federal prosecutors said they began to realize what Coleman was up to when, in December 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection intercepted a package shipped from Pakistan by a Chinese company and addressed to Coleman. The package, intended for a Max Meadows post office box, contained “approximately 2,805 Xanax pills,” Neese’s statement said.
Federal authorities believe the drugs Coleman handled, which were primarily generic forms of brand-name medications, were manufactured abroad, but officials don’t know whether they were produced legally, said Brandon Montgomery, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Coleman reached his foreign contacts through email, Montgomery said.
Those who sent Coleman the drugs have not been charged but were participating in the illegal import of drugs into this country, said Brian McGinn, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia.
After the package bound for Max Meadows was intercepted, a January 2012 search of Coleman’s home and a car driven by co defendant Ronnie Steven Kress, 30, of Pulaski led to the discovery of a tool box with “approximately 4,800 pills, which appear to be Percocet , Xanax and other prescription medication,” Neese’s statement said. A laboratory said the pills “were in fact Xanax and Percocet.”
Kress said the tool box and its contents belonged to Coleman, Neese’s statement said.
After he was arrested in December, Coleman told investigators that when they searched his home, they overlooked a stash of “250,000 hydrocodone pills in his house,” Neese’s statement said. “He said that he had access to up to 10 million pills from India.”
The charges against Coleman included importing controlled substances, though he has pleaded guilty only to conspiracy.
The others who pleaded guilty to conspiracy were Kress; Jason Lee Trivett, 29, of Wytheville; George Anthony Gibson, 29, of Max Meadows; and Debra Sue “Suzy” Kirby, 51, of Max Meadows, according to court records.
Investigators used emails, interviews and other evidence to determine that Trivett, Gibson and Kirby sold drugs for Coleman, Neese’s statement said.
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