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02-27-03: Grand Lake area officers converge on three residences
The Daily Standard

    Thirteen law enforcement officers gathered in Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey's office Wednesday afternoon to discuss strategy in preparation for the continuing assault on drug trafficking, some of which would take place that day.
    Uniformed deputies, plainclothes representatives of the Grand Lake Task Force, the jail administrator and the 911 coordinator listened intently as Grey outlined plans that had been in the works since a grand jury handed down secret indictments Feb. 20.
    Visits to three sites - one in Celina, one in Hopewell Township and the other just over the Van Wert County line - would result in four new dinner guests at the Mercer County Jail if everything went off without a hitch.
    The 2 p.m. briefing did have some lighter moments, breaking the otherwise serious tone.
    "He's not going to be a happy camper" came a comment from one of the undercover detectives seated on the carpeted floor. The warning drew smiles.
    Another Task Force member offered first-hand information regarding dogs at one residence. "They're pretty friendly. You don't have to worry about being torn limb from limb."
    The people brought in would be placed in individual cells, preventing unwanted contact with each other or the 13 current inmates until completion of routine questioning.
    The sheriff handed out prepared packets, including arrest warrants and indictments bearing names, ages, addresses and the alleged charges. Accompanying sheets provided photographs of the suspects, a description of the vehicles they commonly drive and other pertinent information including the possible presence of children at the location.
   "Be careful," Grey warned as each team headed downstairs to waiting cruisers and unmarked cars.
  At 2:45 p.m., Mercer County Central Dispatch proclaimed a Signal 99 - a call denoting emergency radio traffic only - until further notice. Officers involved in the execution of arrest warrants would not be talking on the main frequency that can be picked up by police scanners.
     No sound came from a pair of portable radios on the sheriff's desk - his link with the men and women in the field. Then came a crackle followed by a male voice calmly noting the first team had arrived at the Logan Street location. An ominous silence followed.
    "This is where I get nervous and a pit forms in my stomach," Grey said leaning forward in his chair. "Officers are on the scene and you don't know what is about to unfold. We have to play by the rules, but the guys we're arresting don't have to play by the rules."
    He relaxed perceptively minutes later when the same voice responded he was returning with a male prisoner. The cruiser pulled into the driveway, waited briefly as the sallyport door opened and then disappeared inside. The handcuffed prisoner was led into the jail's booking area for processing.
    Two teams, including a pair of female deputies, left for Carmel Church Road and the home of a husband and wife. The sheriff waited for the crackle of radio transmissions to shatter the stillness.
    Minutes seemed like hours before deputies reported they were approaching the scene. The cars had "hung back" as a school bus dropped off two of the couple's three children.
    Finally, the words the sheriff wanted to hear came - both female deputies were returning to the jail with their female prisoner.
    Grey let out a pent-up sigh before equating the brief message to a sign that everything had gone well. Two male deputies remained at the scene with the husband, who had given permission for a search of the premises.
    Additionally, a Children's Services representative was there to assess the situation involving the children, all under the age of 16. It was agreed they would stay with a neighbor for the time being.
    The only hitch in the well-orchestrated plan came at a Meiers Road address in Van Wert County. The suspect was not home; the baby-sitter said he was working at an egg-processing plant in Fort Recovery.
    Cruisers and an unmarked Task Force vehicle headed in that direction, with Grey calling Fort Recovery Police Chief Maggie Hartings to warn her "the guys are coming your way."
    Some of the delegation entered the business office in front while others watched a side door to thwart any hasty retreat.
    "We missed him by 15 minutes," came the radio message. The cars turned around and headed back to Van Wert County.
    Grey reached for the telephone and alerted authorities in that jurisdiction. He requested that a Van Wert cruiser also respond.
    "Our guys are on the way," he said hunched over the phone. "I don't want him (the suspect) to come home and leave before we get there."
    Confirmation of an arrest came around 4:30, with the Signal 99 lifted shortly thereafter.
    "We're four for four," the sheriff pointed out on a jubilant note. "We scored 100 percent and everybody is returning safe and sound."
    Grey hopes the latest arrests put folks involved in illegal drug activity on notice.
    "We have a drug problem here in Mercer County and we're not talking about beer and joints. We're talking about serious drugs and serious drug trafficking."
    That activity continues despite a series of raids in January 2002, which netted 19 arrests and was described as the largest methamphetamine bust in the state.
    The January bust, which involved nearly 70 law enforcement officers representing numerous agencies, was too big to be coordinated from the small second-floor sheriff's office. That critical briefing was moved across the street to the Mercer County Courthouse auditorium. The plan was charted on a chalkboard, much like a coach outlines key plays to his or her team. Nearly two years of investigation and undercover drug buys paved the way for a night local drug dealers will long remember.
    "Dealers are still out there selling to our people," Grey said. "If you were involved in drugs over the past two years, can you be sure you were selling dope to a friend or somebody on my payroll? Your time is coming."
    He likened the raids in January 2002 to "a real big splash," adding picking up a few drug offenders here and there doesn't make those involved in illegal activity sit up and take notice.
    "We haven't slowed down," said a local detective assigned to the Task Force. Agreeing to speak with The Daily Standard on the condition of anonymity, he added, "we are continually pursuing people involved in drug activity."
    There has been a marked decrease in the amount of methamphetamine coming into the area since that memorable night more than a year ago.
    "We've curtailed the meth problem for the time being by putting a crimp in the supply line," he said. "However, drug dealing doesn't stop. We put away some guys and others are waiting to take their place. It's no secret that drug dealing is a lucrative business."
    He likens drug traffickers to businessmen who handle multiple products. If one product becomes more difficult to acquire, they simply switch to something else. Supply and demand is what the market is all about.
    Locally, authorities continue to see a lot of cocaine, marijuana and prescription medication like the popular painkiller OxyContin. Crack cocaine, Ecstacy and LSD also are available. Young people frequently turn to more common "sniffable" things like gasoline, glue and over-the-counter inhalants.
    "We even have to watch helium-filled balloons at festivals," Grey said. "Kids get a quick but temporary high from helium. It noticeably alters their voices, but few realize complications can be fatal."
    The detective grudgingly admits dealers are well versed in the matter of prescription drugs.
    "You almost have to be a pharmacist to know what you're up against in the field or you need a copy of the Physician's Desk Reference close at hand," he said.
    Grey points to the latest arrests as a sign of what can be accomplished when various agencies, offices and jurisdictions work together toward a common goal - keeping big suppliers out of the area and local dealers continually looking over their shoulder. The Wednesday afternoon arrests are not the first and they certainly are not the last.

Four area residents face drug charges

The Daily Standard

    Four people, including a husband and wife, were arrested Wednesday afternoon through a joint effort of the Mercer County Sheriff's Office and the Grand Lake Task Force.
    Taken into custody without incident at their residences were:
    - Neal S. Rodriguez, 26, 405 W. Logan St., Celina, one count possession of cocaine, a fifth-degree felony.
    The charge stems from a search warrant executed Jan. 31, 2002, in the wake of a series of drug raids that netted 19 arrests. He allegedly obtained, possessed or used the controlled substance in an amount of 5 grams or less.
    - James Thaxton, 45, 3679 Carmel Church Road, Celina, three counts trafficking in drugs, all fourth-degree felonies, and two additional counts of trafficking, both fifth-degree felonies. Two of the charges relate to offenses that occurred in the presence of a juvenile.
    The alleged incidents occurred on or about June 7, June 18, July 24, July 26 and Aug. 2, involving the sale or offered sale of marijuana, Hydrocodone and Propoxyphene. The latter two drugs are often prescribed for the management of mild to moderate pain.
    - Vicky J. Thaxton, 36, 3679 Carmel Church Road, Celina, one count trafficking in drugs, a third-degree felony.
    The charge stems from a July 17 incident in which she allegedly sold or offered to sell Hydrocodone in an amount greater than one but less than five times bulk (in this case 30 tablets). The transaction reportedly occurred in the presence of a juvenile.
    - David R. Schaadt, 26, 18757 Meiers Road, Willshire, one count trafficking in drugs, a fourth-degree felony.
    The charge alleges on or about Feb. 14, 2002, he did knowingly sell or offer to sell cocaine in an amount of 5 grams or less in the vicinity of a juvenile.
    All four remain incarcerated at the Mercer County Jail pending initial appearances in Mercer County Common Pleas Court. Their visit to the courtroom of Judge Jeffrey Ingraham is expected to take place today.
    Sheriff Jeff Grey said there is often a time lapse before drug cases go before the grand jury. Any suspicious tablets and powders seized during the execution of a search warrant go to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation & Identification for analysis. The laboratories there are busy since they serve law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
    Protecting confidential informants is another consideration. This can be accomplished by putting some time between drug buys and eventual indictments. Lastly, loose ends in an investigation must be tied up into a neat package. In many cases this can and does lead to additional arrests.


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