Friday, July 27, 2012

TOP STORY >> Local agencies cooperated on heroin arrests

Leader staff writer

When the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday it was filing heroin charges against eight men — many of them from the Cabot area — federal prosecutors gave credit for the arrests to the State Police, Drug Enforcement Administration and law-enforcement agencies in several jurisdictions, including Austin, Ward, Cabot and the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Such inclusions are common when state and federal agencies get involved in local cases, but they are often seen as little more than a courtesy to the smaller departments. But in this case, the credit appears to have been well-placed.

Lt. Jim Kulesa, who has worked narcotics in Lonoke County for many years, said in an interview Friday that everyone knows the police are territorial – but he said they have all worked together for many months on the heroin indictments announced Thursday.

Heroin is relatively new to the area and users are overdosing and dying, he said.

“They don’t know anything about it because it’s never been a prevalent drug in the county,” he said. “Police are competitive but not when it comes to some thing that’s killing people.”

Charged with distributing heroin that resulted in two deaths were Wallando “Wiley” Onezine, 40, of Cabot; Keith “Key” Sanders, 25, of Memphis; Devon McClain, 19, of Cabot; Mark Aaron “Zane” Pruitt, 22, of Jacksonville; Landon Cope, 21, of Little Rock; Justin Pennock, 27, of Cabot; Alex Evans, 22, of Cabot; and Hunter Gladden, 25, of Ward.

John Staley, the police chief in Austin, said the Austin and Ward police departments worked together on one arrest and then shared information with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office. The parts began fitting together like pieces of a puzzle and investigators realized they were working on something that was beyond their expertise and they called the DEA.

“Each one of us got a little information and put it all together. We all worked together. It was pretty awesome,” Staley said.

According to the news release from U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Thyer, the eight men are charged with distributing or conspiring to distribute heroin from May 1, 2011, through June 26.

The two people who died from the heroin — one on May 1, 2011, and the other on Oct. 27, 2011 — are not identified in the indictment.

“The state of Arkansas is experiencing the same trends as other states in which people are abusing prescription pain pills containing opiates and develop an opiate addiction,” said William J. Bryant, assistant special agent in Charge of the Little Rock Field Division of the DEA. “Some of these people then turn to heroin. As you can see in this case, this trend produces fatal consequences in our community.”

“The arrest and indictment of these eight men is just the beginning of our efforts to remove those who distribute heroin not only in Cabot and Lonoke County, but wherever else this dangerous, addictive drug is being peddled,” Thyer said.

“Since last fall, there have been nine reported incidents involving young men and women overdosing on heroin, two of which resulted in the loss of life. I encourage parents to learn what signs to look for and pay close attention to the activities and behavior of their sons and daughters. Teach your children about the consequences of drug experimentation and notify local authorities of any suspected drug dealing in your community,” he said.

Michael Davis, a group supervisor for the DEA, said most of the heroin in the state is passing through on the interstate highway bound for large Midwestern cities like Chicago and Indianapolis.

Although the highly-addictive heroin is gaining in popularity in central Arkansas, prescription drugs and methamphetamine are still the illegal drugs most commonly used across the state.

Most heroin dealers in Arkansas go over the border into Mexico, buy a small quantity and sell to a few customers who are usually white men and women between the ages of 19 and 30, he said.

Heroin sells for $60 to $100 a gram, Davis said. A gram is enough for one or two uses.

In addition to the DEA, other agencies assisting in the investigation were police departments in Cabot, Ward, Austin and Maumelle, plus the sheriff’s offices in Lonoke, Conway and Pulaski Counties, and the Lonoke County prosecutor.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gordon. Jury trial for those charged has been set for Aug. 27.

Anyone with information about Sander’s whereabouts is asked to contact the DEA at 501-217-6500.