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‘Bitter’ Medicine

Area law enforcement officials brief each other during “Operation Take as Directed” Tuesday morning in Windsor. From left are Hertford Co. Sheriff Juan Vaughan; SBI Agent Donnie Varnell (back to camera); Northampton Co. Sheriff Jack Smith; Murfreesboro Police Chief Darrell Rowe; and Bertie Co. Sheriff John Holley. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Area law enforcement officials brief each other during “Operation Take as Directed” Tuesday morning in Windsor. From left are Hertford Co. Sheriff Juan Vaughan; SBI Agent Donnie Varnell (back to camera); Northampton Co. Sheriff Jack Smith; Murfreesboro Police Chief Darrell Rowe; and Bertie Co. Sheriff John Holley. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

WINDSOR – It was code-named Operation ‘Take as Directed’, but for 28 people charged with drug trafficking in the Roanoke-Chowan area it turned out to be bitter medicine.

The three-month long undercover investigation focused on the sale of prescription drugs in the four-county Roanoke-Chowan area and started in the Powellsville community of Bertie County.

In the early morning hours Tuesday, local Sheriff’s Office personnel, emergency medical service workers and 9-1-1 dispatchers joined officers from the Windsor Police Department, Woodland Police Department and Murfreesboro Police Departments in a four county-wide sweep.

Officers from the N.C Department of Revenue and the DEA Tactical Unit were also involved in the operation, along with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI).

The multiagency teams were each assigned a number of suspects to pick up and were cautioned that all suspects could be armed with weapons, from firearms to vicious animals.

One of the persons accused of trafficking in illegal prescription narcotics is escorted by Windsor Police Officer Chris Leggett to processing at the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

One of the persons accused of trafficking in illegal prescription narcotics is escorted by Windsor Police Officer Chris Leggett to processing at the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

By 10 a.m. the operation was nearly complete and officers had arrested 19 of the 28 suspects, all of which were processed at the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office in Windsor.

Over a period of 90 days, law enforcement made covert street-level purchases of over 890 oxycodone and dilaudid pills in the operation, which is part of a statewide campaign. The total street value of the illegally-obtained prescription opiate tablets is more than $8,000.

The SBI Diversion and Environmental Crimes Unit (DECU) was forged after discussions between an SBI DECU agent and        the investigators from the sheriff’s offices where officers were originally combating this particular drug problem in their counties independently.

By combining their efforts with other law-enforcement resources, street level buys were determined to be the winning option to confront this growing issue, focusing on the hand-to-hand sales of prescription narcotics.

“Each entity offered resources that the others could not provide.  In essence, we had an informal task force at work,” stated SBI DECU Special Agent in Charge Donnie Varnell at a press conference in the Commissioner’s Room following the arrests.

“This is a huge success considering the number of dealers who were charged in such a short period of time,” said Bertie County Sheriff John Holley. “Without this team working together, we would not have been so successful.”

The operation began with a small number of dealers targeted in the Powellsville area, but it quickly expanded to other communities.  Shortly after the undercover buys were initiated, the suspects began independently contacting the buyers, which is uncommon in drug investigations.

This campaign was directed toward individuals with the capabilities of selling and trafficking amounts of prescription narcotics.  To traffic oxycodone or dilaudid in North Carolina requires only a few tablets of either or combined.

In “Take as Directed,” there are two single purchases of 50 oxycodone tablets from two different people. This explains the unusually high number of trafficking violations charged in this street level operation.

Illegal prescription drug sellers and buyers do not the fit the typical image the public may have of drug abusers.  The DECU has shut down numerous large-scale prescription drug rings.  These rings are operated by people from blue and white collar backgrounds.  The unit also focuses investigations on doctors, nurses and pharmacists who are obtaining prescription drugs illegally for personal use or who are involved in drug rings.

“They are our neighbors and the people we come in contact in the course of everyday life,” said SBI DECU Special Agent Paul Munson.  “The abuse of prescription drugs affects people from all socioeconomic levels.”

Varnell added that the DECU currently has several ongoing investigations in the state on gangs that are not dealing the traditional street drugs such as crack and powder cocaine. These particular targets are running prescription drug rings instead.

“These individuals have been a criminal problem for a long time,” said Holley. “Their arrests will have an immensely positive impact on the local communities.”

“We were shocked to learn the high volume of illegal prescription drug sales here in our community and the enormity of the problem,” said Sheriff Juan Vaughan of Hertford County, who was present along with Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith.  “It is through these close partnerships that we have provided our best service to the citizens in addressing this particular problem.”

Smith said the depth of the operation should not be startling. “After about 44 years experience in law enforcement I’m never surprised at what people will do for money.”

This operation is part of an ongoing statewide focus by the SBI on the illegal sales of prescription drugs.

“The illegal distribution of prescription drugs is at epidemic proportions across the United States and North Carolina is no exception,” said SBI Acting Director B.W. Collier, who was also present at the press conference. “This is only one segment of the SBI’s statewide initiative that is directed toward the illicit sales of prescription drugs. It’s paramount that we maintain the partnerships we have and continue to do this type of work because the goal is to stop the dope dealers from dealing these types of drugs and save some lives in the process.”

Law enforcement’s interest is not only to catch the criminal, but to save lives.  There are massive numbers of overdose related deaths across the country due to prescription drugs.

Bertie County Sheriff’s Sergeant Ed Pittman escorts a suspect for processing. Twenty of 28 persons had been arrested as of midday Tuesday accused of trafficking in illegal narcotics. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Bertie County Sheriff’s Sergeant Ed Pittman escorts a suspect for processing. Twenty of 28 persons had been arrested as of midday Tuesday accused of trafficking in illegal narcotics. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

“Anyone abusing these drugs is subject to overdose whether they are young or elderly,” stated Varnell.  “Every victim is someone’s child or parent.  In the end, all lives are precious.”

For many people, the first opportunity for intervention is through contact with law enforcement.

“Those charged in this operation today will be offered a medical assessment and information on treatment options at the time of their arrest,” Sheriff Holley said.

The SBI said a second initiative similar to Operation “Take as Directed” will be starting shortly targeting doctors, nurses, and pharmacists suspected of prescribing pills to dealers.

Those charged include 15 people with addresses in Bertie County. They were:

* Shirley Delois Bazemore, 60, of Powellsville who is charged with possession with intent to sell and deliver oxycodone, sell and deliver oxycodone, maintaining a dwelling to keep a controlled substance, trafficking in opiates by possession and trafficking in opiates by sell and delivery;

*  Joyce Ann Perry, 43, of Powellsville is charged with three counts of trafficking opiates by possession, and three counts of trafficking opiates by sell and delivery;

* Mark Garner, 26, of Powellsville is charged with two counts of trafficking opiates by possession, two counts of trafficking opiates by sell and delivery and conspiracy to traffic opiates;

* Ethan Glass, 22, of Aulander is charged with conspiracy to traffic in opiates and possession with intent to sell and deliver;

* Jerry Chapman, 45, of Powellsville is charged with trafficking opiates by possession and trafficking opiates by sell and delivery;

* ShermanCofield, 51, of Windsor is charged with possession with intent to sell and deliver oxycodone, two counts of sell and delivery of oxycodone and conspiracy to sell and deliver oxycodone;

* Thomas Wilkins, 35, of Powellsville is charged with two counts of possession with intent to sell and delivery oxycodone, two counts of sell and deliver oxycodone and two counts of conspiracy to sell oxycodone;

* Katina Yvonne Watford, 35, of Powellsville is charged with conspiracy to sell and deliver oxycodone, trafficking opiates by possession and trafficking opiates by sell and delivery;

* Eric Sessoms, 35, of Powellsville is charged with trafficking opiates by possession, trafficking opiates by sell and delivery, sell and delivery of oxycodone, possession with intent to sell and delivery oxycodone and maintaining a vehicle to keep a controlled substance;

* Christopher Bern Carter, 57, of Powellsville is charged with two counts of trafficking opiates by possession and two counts of trafficking opiates by sell and delivery;

* Thomas Lynwood Pierce, 50, of Colerain is charged with two counts of conspiracy to traffic opiates;

* Tomeka Shenett Vaughan, 39, of Powellsville is charged with two counts of trafficking opiates by possession, two counts of trafficking opiates by sell and delivery and conspiracy to traffic opiates;

* William Wesley Perry, 58, of Colerain is charged with three counts of trafficking opiates by possession, three counts of trafficking opiates by sell and delivery and conspiracy to traffic opiates;

* Russell Ray Perry, 46, of Powellsville is charged with trafficking opiates by possession and trafficking opiates by sell and delivery; and

* Jeffrey Lynn Perry, 26, of Lewiston Woodville is charged with trafficking opiates by possession and trafficking opiates by sell and delivery.

Others charged included:

* Jason Carroll Ray, 28 of Ahoskie is charged with trafficking opiates by possession, trafficking opiates by sell and delivery, possession with intent to sell and delivery oxycodone and sell and delivery of oxycodone;

* Dwayne Anderson, 43, of Rich Square is charged with two counts of trafficking opiates by possession, two counts of trafficking opiates by sell and delivery, two counts of conspiracy to traffic opiates, two counts of possession with intent to sell and delivery oxycodone and sell and delivery of oxycodone;

* Matthew Cain Edwards, 30, of Ahoskie is charged with two counts of trafficking opiates by possession, two counts of trafficking opiates by sell and delivery and two counts of conspiracy to traffic opiates;

* Kevin Scott, 31, of Eure is charged with trafficking opiates by possession, trafficking opiates by sell and delivery and conspiracy to traffic opiates;

* Shannon Renee Jones, 30, of Murfreesboro is charged with trafficking opiates by possession, trafficking opiates by sell and delivery and conspiracy to traffic opiates;

* Michael O’Neal Eason Jr., 20, of Woodland is charged with possession with three counts intent to sell and deliver oxycodone, two counts of sell and deliver oxycodone and three counts of conspiracy to sell and deliver oxycodone;

* Joshua Lawrence Gaudette, 29, of Ahoskie is charged with conspiracy to sell and deliver oxycodone, trafficking opiates by possession and trafficking opiates by sell and delivery;

* Lashwan Moore, 25, of Woodland is charged with two counts of conspiracy to sell and deliver oxycodone, possession with intent to sell and deliver oxycodone and sell and deliver oxycodone;

* Bobby Fitzgerald Freeman, 51, of Ahoskie is charged with two counts of trafficking opiates by possession and two counts of trafficking opiates;

* Joseph Dewayne Conner, 37, of Woodland is charged with possession with intent to sell and deliver oxycodone and sell and deliver oxycodone;

* Brandon Thomas Hall, 29, of Ahoskie is charged with trafficking opiates by possession and trafficking opiates by sell and delivery;

* Dwight David Olmsted, 23, of Ahoskie is charged with trafficking opiates by possession and trafficking opiates by sell and delivery; and

* ‘Skid’, no known address, is charged with two counts of trafficking opiates by possession and two counts of trafficking opiates by sell and delivery.