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New task force quietly nets federal drug indictments

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A task force working under the radar in three rural West Virginia counties is already credited with securing at least 15 federal drug indictments, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld said residents of Pocahontas, Randolph and Tucker counties can expect to see more of the same in the very near future.

Ihlenfeld, in Elkins Jan. 27 to introduce the new Mountain Region Drug & Violent Crime Task Force to the tri-county community, said additional arrests will be announced in the next few days as the task force picks up individuals named in still-sealed drug indictments from last week.

Going forward, he said residents can expect a comparable number of new indictments "within a month or so," all based on the work of the newly formed task force.

"We wanted to let the public know the group is already hard at work," Ihlenfeld said, labeling it a "nice start" for the task force. He said a memorandum of understanding was executed in the fall, but the board elected to wait until now to open up about what they were doing.

"We'd talked about rolling it out in November, but we didn't want to jeopardize sensitive investigations," he said. "We wanted to remain underground while those cases were being worked on, but we knew at some point we'd have to bring it out."

Those "sensitive investigations" included a 67-count indictment charging three individuals — Robert Franklin Davis II, 35, and Jamie Nicole Chidester, 25, both of Buckhannon, and Brandon Michael Beeson, 27, of Elkins — with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. The lengthy indictment details how the trio allegedly shopped for meth building blocks at pharmacies in Randolph, Upshur, Monongalia, Harrison, Lewis, Preston, Barbour and Taylor counties.

Meanwhile, six other individuals have been identified so far in the latest round of indictments charging them with distributing drugs like hydrocodone, cocaine, oxycodone, buprenorphine, cocaine and crack.

And in August, he said six others were indicted for their roles in an alleged methamphetamine operation, while another was charged with stealing prescription painkillers last year from a pharmacy in Parsons.

"Nothing like this has ever been done in that part of the state," Ihlenfeld said. "This was a good day, a really good day, for communities in that part of the state, to know a group like this is working together on issues related to drug trafficking.

"Each of the agencies involved could only do so much on its own. But by pooling their resources together they're able to work on more substantial investigations that are going to have a greater impact on the area."

Ihlenfeld said that doesn't mean the group won't do buy-busts, which is when a person makes a controlled buy and then busts the person involved. 

"But, by pooling their resources together, they're going to have the ability to work on longer-term investigations and go up the chain," he explained.

Spearheading the effort are the Randolph, Tucker and Pocahontas county sheriffs and prosecutors; West Virginia State Police; the U.S. Forestry Service, and Drug Enforcement Administration, with assistance on a case-by-case basis from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Ihlenfeld said the task force has created a hotline so the public can call in tips and is working on a website.

"I wish this group didn't have so much work to do," Ihlenfeld added. "It says a lot that even in more rural parts of West Virginia they're feeling the impact of drug trafficking and we're seeing out-of-town, out-of-state drug traffickers coming into our area from cities like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Detroit. 

"Sometimes they look at West Virginia as an area where they can feel comfortable trafficking in drugs. It's our job, and the job of this task force, to make them feel uncomfortable."