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14 arrested in drug sweep

January 22, 1999

Drug bustBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




A major drug ring based in Hagerstown was effectively shut down Thursday when between 60 and 70 police officers armed with 14 search warrants fanned out across the Tri-State area, looking for 31 people wanted on a variety of drug charges, according to authorities.

By mid-afternoon, federal, state and local law enforcement officers were calling the operation, which culminated an eight-month investigation, a success.

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"There were lots of surprised people," said Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Duane Gigeous, relating the events that began when the task force composed of federal, state and local officers assembled at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Hagerstown.

Fourteen people were in custody by 5 p.m. and more than $100,000 in drugs, six weapons, four cars and $12,500 in cash had been seized, officers said.

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With paperwork still being tabulated late Thursday, police said the indictments were for charges ranging from distribution of cocaine and marijuana, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana and possession with the intent to distribute the drugs.

"This was one of the largest drug seizures in Washington County," said Hagerstown Police Chief Dale Jones.

On display at police headquarters Thursday afternoon were bags of marijuana, some seized that day and some taken in earlier during the investigation.

Jeff Kercheval, director of the Western Maryland Crime Lab, estimated that just under 70 pounds of marijuana had been seized.

Street value of the marijuana was estimated at $70,000.

Twelve ounces of cocaine, worth $30,000 on the street, also was seized.

Police said four of six handguns found had been reported stolen in the Washington, D.C., area.

Three long guns, including two rifles and a shotgun, were on display, along with an assortment of ammunition and two sets of scales.

Jones said that in the past, it would have been difficult to coordinate such an operation across county and state lines. But since last April, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force based in Hagerstown has eliminated those barriers.

Washington County State's Attorney Kenneth Long said the search warrants were executed in Hagerstown, Washington County, Franklin County, Pa., and Berkeley County, W.Va.

"The five picked up on federal indictments will be going before U.S. Magistrate, Judge Thomas DiGirolamo, and then to the Washington County Detention Center," said Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades.

One man facing a federal indictment remained at large Thursday, police said. He was identified only as a Montgomery County, Md., man.

The nine who were served with state indictments were taken before a Washington County District Court commissioner Thursday, Mades said.

Bonds ranged from $50,000 to $70,000, he said.

Women were taken to the Maryland State Police barracks for processing, and men were taken to the county detention center.

Most of those taken into custody were found at or near their homes, Jones said. Two Hagerstown residents were taken into custody at a motel on Hagerstown's Dual Highway.

"Police will continue to make arrests," Long said, referring to the 31 names on indictments.

Jones said that some of the 14 arrested Thursday were "key individuals" in the drug ring. "To go any further now would be premature," Jones said.

He said some worked for those key figures.

"I am pleased with the efforts of the agents and with the results," Gigeous said.

In addition to the DEA Hagerstown Task Force, officers from Hagerstown City Police, Maryland State Police, Washington County Sheriff's Department, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore, Pennsylvania State Police, Waynesboro, Pa., Police, and the Eastern Panhandle (W.Va.) Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force were involved in the operation.

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