Pubdate: Fri, 01 Feb 2002
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2002 Richmond Newspapers Inc.
Author: Tom Campbell, Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cocaine)

18 In 2 Counties Are Indicted


FBI agents and local police forces made arrests this week under an 
indictment charging 18 people from Surry and Isle of Wight counties with 
conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.

By last night, 16 of the accused were in custody and 14 of them had made 
their initial appearance in U.S. District Court here before Magistrate 
Judge Dennis W. Dohnal. Two more were still at large.

At least three of the defendants surrendered to police after the arrests 
began Monday, authorities said. The alleged activities go back several 
years and the investigation was aided by still-unnamed cooperating 
witnesses who authorities say bought illegal drugs from many of the defendants.

Those witnesses include some who are themselves drug defendants and are now 
cooperating in hope of reducing their sentences, and one who is a retired 
police officer working under cover.

"This is a long-term investigation that has resulted in the indictment of 
18 people," Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura C. Marshall told Dohnal.

Arguing that some of the defendants should not be eligible for release on 
bond awaiting trial, Marshall said the cooperating witnesses "will be 
vulnerable if some or all of these defendants are released on bond."

The indictment, which was sealed until yesterday afternoon while arrests 
were made, alleges the defendants participated in a conspiracy that 
imported large quantities of crack into the two counties. One defendant is 
charged also with running a crack house.

The government is seeking also the forfeiture of $444,000 in drug proceeds 
and of 10 vehicles allegedly used in the drug trafficking.

The 14 defendants who appeared before Dohnal yesterday afternoon filled the 
jury box, plus two chairs where alternate jurors normally sit. Their 
lawyers, friends and family nearly filled the rest of the seats in the 
largest courtroom in the U.S. Courthouse downtown.

FBI Special Agent Scott A. Rago said authorities made warranted searches at 
five of the defendants' residences. He said crack, marijuana, large amounts 
of cash, some firearms and various kinds of drug paraphernalia were seized 
in the searches.

In an affidavit also filed in court, Rago said he became involved in the 
investigation a year ago.

But the Pagan River Drug Task Force had been investigating many of the 
people indicted for at least two years before that. The task force is made 
up of the Smithfield Police Department, the Surry County Sheriff's Office, 
the Isle of Wight Sheriff's Office and the Virginia State Police.

The affidavit describes some of the "controlled buys" made from some of the 
defendants, in which cooperating witnesses or undercover officers set up 
and transacted drug purchases from the suspects as if they were drug users. 
The most recent was Jan. 22.
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