Busting The Hill

Cops broke up Martinsburg, W.Va., drug 'supermarket' 20 years ago

Cops broke up Martinsburg, W.Va., drug 'supermarket' 20 years ago

October 15, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY
(Page 2 of 3)

"It was difficult to stand back and watch the people you serve go through this agony," Dockeney said.

Call in the feds

Too large of a problem to be handled locally, the city realized that federal assistance in an investigation and with prosecution could only help.

"The only way to really truly attack that was to go through a more formal investigative process," Anderson said.

Into the picture came the U.S. Attorney's Office, the DEA, the FBI and other agencies, as well as the West Virginia State Police.

Investigating the drug ring took more than a year and a half.

Controlled drug buys, using both undercover officers and confidential informants, were made to record the drug activity and police developed relationships with sources for information on the dealers, said retired West Virginia State Police Trooper Gray Griffith, who was involved in the case from the beginning.


Sometimes undercover officers would relay information about a customer to a uniformed officer in a marked car waiting nearby. The uniformed officer would pull over the car, interview the people inside and, if warranted, make an arrest for buying drugs, Griffith said.

Investigators worked with police in Maryland and Virginia as well. Maryland State Police tipped off Griffith to a dealer who had purchased a train ticket to go to an area of Florida known to be a source of drugs.

That man left with no luggage and returned to find police waiting for him at the Martinsburg train station. He had crack cocaine on him, Griffith said.

Informants played a role in the investigation, including a woman known only as "Mary."

"Mary" provided a great deal of information on "deep background" to police. She knew the dealers and when they were traveling, Mucklow said.

So important to investigators, "Mary" was eligible for inclusion in the federal witness protection program, but never took up the offer. She also never testified and has never been publicly identified, Mucklow said.

The investigation lasted for so long because the U.S. Attorney's Office does not normally take a reactive stance, said Mucklow.

"We like to take our time and build our case from the ground up. As a prosecutor I can tell you you can't have too much evidence," he said.

At the same time, he said, law enforcement officials were aware that crimes were being committed and had to weigh those against the effects of an investigation.

"In '86 we had gone just about as far as we could," Mucklow said, saying one determinant was that there simply was not much more money left to buy drugs for investigative purposes.

Eventually investigators felt they had sufficient evidence against about 45 people believed to be the main traffickers, including dealers and local sources who did tasks like driving to Florida to buy massive quantities of drugs that later were divided for street-level sales, Mucklow said.

A grand jury convened elsewhere in the state and returned indictments against those people. The indictments were sealed from the public while the raid was planned.

Before sunrise

That out-of-the-way hotel where Anderson and about 200 other officers spent the night before the raid was the Lee Jackson Motor Inn in Winchester, Va.

Not wanting to tip off the dealers, a cover story was arranged.

"The public story was that this was a law enforcement training meeting, to explain why all these police cars suddenly converged in Winchester," Mucklow said.

The officers were divided into teams, with each team having at least one officer familiar with either the area, the case or the suspect.

Arrest packets were handed out, as well as any photos or physical descriptions available of the suspects. Some were "FNU,LNU"s - "First name unknown, last name unknown," and were known only by their street names.

Mucklow said he went to sleep at the hotel at around 2 a.m., and was up at 4 a.m. for a 5 a.m. last-minute briefing.

Then he went to the federal courthouse.

And waited.

Meanwhile, a portion of Maple Avenue alongside the federal courthouse was cordoned off and a bus was parked there to hold the suspects after they were processed.

One suspect after another was brought in and processing them took most of the day.

Fearing retaliation, a deputy U.S. marshal walked along a roof area of the courthouse wearing body armor and carrying an automatic weapon. Several armed officers also patrolled the street.

Family members and friends of those arrested gathered on the King Street side of Maple Avenue, while other people gathered on the John Street end.

"Those people (on King Street) would boo and jeer and yell not very nice things, and those people on this end (Maple Avenue) would cheer and applaud" as suspects were taken to the bus, Mucklow said.

One of the suspects tried to escape from police by jumping out of a window.

"That was the only defendant I've ever processed in his underwear," Mucklow said.

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