(TOPLINE: 20+ indicted in federal oxycodone drug-ring investigation, including 1 arrested in West Seattle)
(Photos by Nick Adams for WSB)
FIRST REPORT, 12:58 PM: We’re at FBI headquarters in the heart of downtown, where agencies and departments including the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Seattle Police are about to brief the media on the raids/searches this morning at locations including the one on which we reported (5400 block of 30th SW). We’ve just been handing documents that say more than 20 people were arrested in connection with a “significant narcotics trafficking ring” involving “distributing thousands of oxycodone pills in the Seattle area.” More to come.
1:03 PM UPDATE: The briefing has begun. 24 arrests executed this morning by 100 law enforcement officers, we’re being told. Operation was code-named “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse“; the alleged ringleader’s name is Herman. Speaking first with details: US Attorney Jenny Durkan:
She calls this “a tremendous investigation over a period of years. We are focused heavily on ending prescription drug abuse … As you know, it’s a growing epidemic in America … Last year, it was estimated the deaths … exceeded the deaths for motor vehicles.” She says there’s a direct “nexus” between drug dealing and violent crime, and lauds the joint efforts of SPD and FBI.
SPD’s Deputy Chief Nick Metz (above) is speaking now (1:06 pm) – he says “it’s no secret that in past six-plus months, we’ve seen an uptick in violence …”and he believes this will affect that. Now FBI special agent in charge Dean says that 16 locations were searched in our state and California in relation to this case. 19 people were indicted, he says. He says that agents came here from other states including Utah and Oregon to help, as well as other partners around the region. The investigation dates back to February 2010, he says. He says one particular gang was the focus of the investigation, and stresses again the partnership between law-enforcement agencies. “We’re going to continue our efforts to disrupt violent crime.”
1:10 PM: The operation is being called “unprecedented” in its scope and scale. “I think today’s efforts have made the region a little safer.” After just a few minutes, the news conference is being opened to questions. First question involves investigative techniques, on which they don’t want to specialize; electronic surveillance is mentioned.
Second question – “We took the head dog out,” says FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Steven Dean (above), responding to the role of Herman Roche, the first person whose indictment has been publicized. Roche is 43 years old and described in documents as a Kent resident. He says the investigation “disrupted” the organization and put most of its members in custody. “We think it’s going to make a dent.” Durkan says, “These operations rely on everything from (street cop undercover buys) to sophisticated surveillance … What the bad guys need to know out there is that state and federal authorities are going to cooperate .. We have a wide array of tools; we will use them all to stop crime in this community.” She says they wanted to make sure they “had the entire organization” so that when “we took it down, we knew what we were doing.” She talks about the organization members’ trips to California to get thousands of pills at a time. She says they seized 20 firearms, $40,000, and more that they are still inventorizing. “The next step is that all of these people have to make their appearance in federal court.”
1:15 PM: The news conference is wrapping up. Some of the suspects will be on the 2:30 pm court calendar. And the FBI spokesperson will tell us afterward about specific locations and how they figured into it.
1:29 PM UPDATE: 33 year old Brian M. Davis is identified as the person arrested at the home on 5400 block of 30th SW this morning. He is charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, authorities say. He was the only person arrested in West Seattle, according to the FBI, and the 30th SW house is the only WS location involved. What exactly was seized there – and what role that location played – won’t be known, says the FBI, until the search warrant returns are made public, probably in a week or so. The closest arrest to West Seattle, besides Davis, was that of 45-year-old Thomas D. Lee, arrested in the 6100 block of 4th Avenue S (a WSB Facebook commenter mentioned that location). They will be among those making a court appearance in about an hour. Seattle Police also confirm that Davis was the victim in a shooting elsewhere in the city a month ago.
2:44 PM UPDATE: Back at HQ now and will add video of the briefing plus a few more photos – unlike some briefings of similar magnitude, there was no “show and tell” component of seized items, in case you wondered. (added – here’s our video – starting with an overview by FBI Special Agent in Charge Laura Laughlin)
Also, if you’d like to read the full news release, which lists everyone charged, as well as all the participating agencies, it’s after the jump:
More than 100 federal and local law enforcement agents fanned out across the Puget Sound Region and Northern California today to arrest more than 20 defendants implicated in a significant narcotics trafficking ring, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. Eighteen of the defendants have been indicted by the grand jury for distributing thousands of oxycodone pills in the Seattle area. An additional six defendants were arrested for their role in the drug distribution scheme. The arrests are the culmination of a two year investigation by the Seattle Safe Streets Task Force, operated by the FBI and Seattle Police Department. The defendants will make their initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle at 2:30 today.
“Prescription drug abuse is a growing threat in our community, with terrible consequences,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “This drug ring was feeding addiction with thousands of pills trafficked from California. They lined their pockets by destroying the lives and families of so many in our community.”
According to the criminal complaints and indictment, members of the ring would frequently travel to Northern California to pick-up 2,000 to 5,000 percocet (oxycodone) pills per trip. The ring, led by HERMAN J. ROCHE, 43, of Kent, Washington would then sell the pills throughout the Puget Sound region. The investigation into the organized criminal group involved confidential informants as well as court authorized wiretaps of three phones belonging to ROCHE. Agents in California arrested defendants who were the source of supply for the drugs.
“Drugs tear at the inner fabric of our community in countless ways,” said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Laura M. Laughlin. “They bring violence to our streets. They waste young lives and wreak havoc on families. They drain the resources of our health care systems. This joint investigation with the Seattle Police Department focused not only on taking harmful drugs off the streets, but on dismantling the organization behind them. The FBI is committed to preventing criminal enterprises from continuing to damage our community.”
In addition to ROCHE, those indicted for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances include:
ROBERT M. KEARNEY JR., 40, of Stockton, California
SHAUNTE M. ANTHONY, 34, of Oakland, California
RUCHELL GILBERT, 38, of Renton, Washington
BRANDY N. BUTLER, 34, of Seattle, Washington
NICKOLE E. MARTIN, 25, of Kent, Washington
JASON R. LEE, 26, of Seattle, Washington
RAHMAN JOHNSON, 35, of Kent, Washington
SAXTON F. MASON, 35, of Seattle, Washington
ERNEST J. ELLISON, 47, of Seattle, Washington
DEMONTA M. HENRY, 24, of Kent, Washington
VINCENT L. FIELDS, 44, of Tacoma, Washington
COREY A. BROWN, 39, of Seattle, Washington
CLARENCE D. WILLIAMS, 32, of Seattle, Washington
JOSEPH D. ROCHE, 46, of Seattle, Washington
THOMAS D. LEE, 45, of Seattle, Washington
DAVID L. POTTS, 48, of Spanaway, Washington
CURIUM L. HURLEY, 29, of Tukwila, Washington
The defendants charged by complaint include:
DANIEL M.YOHANNES, 26, of Seattle, Washington
BRIAN M. DAVIS, 33, of Seattle, Washington
FREDERICK L. NEWMAN Jr., 39, of Tukwila, Washington
ANTHONY F. COLBERT, 42, Renton, Washington
Additional defendants arrested include:
NEGASH MULU WOLDESELASE, 25, of Seattle, Washington
ALVIN ROCHELL MITCHELL, 24, of Seattle, Washington
“This joint SPD-FBI investigation and the federal prosecution of these hard core violent career criminals will impact our Seattle neighborhoods in a positive way by making our streets a safer place for everyone,” said Seattle Police Chief John Diaz.
The charges contained in the indictment and complaints are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Conspiracy to distribute controlled substances is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.
The case is being investigated by the Seattle Safe Streets Task Force containing agents and officers from the FBI and Seattle Police Department. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), along with officers from the Auburn Police Department, Des Moines Police Department, Federal Way Police Department, Kent Police Department, King County Sheriff’s Office, Kirkland Police Department, Mountlake Terrace Police Department, Port of Seattle Police Department, Renton Police Department, and Tukwila Police Department partnered with the task force on today’s arrests.