|Ten individuals indicted, arrested and charged in drug ring activity centered locally|
In a bold, sweeping movement, officers with the Sheriff’s Department and Indiana State Police (ISP) partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District, and agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (AFT) to arrest a total of ten people implicated in a local conspiracy to distribute drugs.
Starting at 6 a.m. on Friday, February 5, in Scott County, suspects taken into custody include the so-called ringleader, Bennito L. Rodriguez, 38, and his live-in girlfriend, Brooklyn Mack, 30, both of whom were taken into custody at their home on West Owen Street in Scottsburg. Also arrested were Justin M. “Booger” Roberts, 38, and James D. Haney, both of Austin; and Travis D. Brock, 34, and Michael A. Doyle, 28, both of Scottsburg.
The final arrests on Friday included Rashawn A. “Ray” Vaughn, 41, Louisville; Eric L. Gude, 36, and Anthony L. Hardy, 39, both of Indianapolis; and Rashaan A. “Phil” Perkins, 21, Detroit. None of the defendants resisted arrest; no one was injured in the operation. The four are charged with providing most of the drugs that permeated the lives of too many residents in the county.
The grand jury indictment includes one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, 13 counts of distribution of a controlled substance, four counts of unlawful use of a communication facility (cell phone) and one count each of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of heroin with intent to distribute and possession of marijuana.
If convicted as charged, these individuals may serve terms from ten years to life.
How did this anti-crime sweep begin? Its roots, according to brief presentations made early Friday afternoon by U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler, DEA Associate Special Agent Karen J. Flowers, Sheriff Dan McClain and County Prosecutor Jason Mount, were in the biggest rural outbreak of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in the United States that happened last winter in Austin and Scott County.
Most people found to be HIV-positive had abused drugs, specifically, injecting liquified Opana, also known as Oxymorphone, which is a powerful pain killer, and/or methamphetamine. Those people shared needles, thus passing on HIV and Hepatitis C.
The rest, as they say, is history, but it’s history that is being lived, day by day, by nearly 200 people.
The most heinous portion of this story is that Rodriguez, his girlfriend and his friends are accused of seeing a “golden” opportunity to supply those drugs in demand by those who used the substances. “Scott County was targeted by (this) organization with the goal of infesting the community with drugs, including Opana,” said Minkler.
It wasn’t until June, 2015, when HIV figures were still on the rise and the situation was still in the spotlight, that DEA agents began working with county law enforcement officials to determine the source of the Opana and methamphetamine, which seemed to be so plentiful. The effort was determined to be one of the elements of federal authorities’ three-pronged approach to the health crisis – enforcement, diversion control and community outreach.
Undercover agents carefully pieced together the structure of the thriving business.
Hardy allegedly supplied Gude with methamphetamine, according to the indictment. Drugs were then purportedly supplied by Vaughn, Gude and Perkins to Rodriguez and Mack. The drugs were prepared for resale, orders were taken and several of the defendants were purportedly involved in delivering orders or redistributing the substances through their own sales.
A brief survey of several of the local defendants’ court histories show that all but Doyle have been charged in the past Continue with possession of cocaine or methamphetamine and/or controlled substances.
The ensuing flood of drugs led to a fateful party sometime in December, 2014. Drugs and needles were shared. Health officials have narrowed the source of the original HIV infection to one individual from Louisville who participated in drugs at the party. Those party-goers went on to share their needles with others on other occasions, and the outbreak of HIV exploded.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence declared a health emergency in Scott County early in 2015. The declaration also led to a beleaguered Scott County Health Department being allowed by Gov. Pence to establish the state’s first needle exchange.
A lot of those people are now enrolled in the needle exchange. Some are also seeking help for their dependency. Several are now on a regimen of medications costing some $2,000 per month per person which neutralizes the HI virus and allows the host to live a fairly normal life.
Others are still abusing drugs, refusing medications that could save them from developing full-blown Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The Scott County Security Center now has a full-time nurse on its staff to deal with imprisoned people who have HIV.
Scott County now has an acknowledged total of 188 people who are HIV-positive. In the U.S., there are 1.2 million people who have HIV, according to 2013 statistics. That year, over 47,000 new cases were diagnosed. Only about 37% of HIV-positive people around the country are on medicines which fight the virus. It’s not known what the percentage is among the Scott County group, but it’s considered low.
The local ring’s supposed efforts were successful monetarily.
Among items confiscated by authorities in the Friday morning raid was $34,000 in cash. Agents also descended upon the vehicle detailing business Rodriguez had established just south of the Jay C Food Store. The business was cleaned out, and vehicles were hauled away.
The defendants were transported to Indianapolis on Friday morning in a special ISP vehicle. Their initial hearings on the charges were held that same day, advised Minkler.
Sheriff McClain, described as a “true leader” by Minkler during the press conference on Friday afternoon, noted the local raid, “....surprised a lot of people this morning.” He thanked all of the agencies involved in the effort. “We couldn’t have done this without everyone’s help and cooperation,” he added, noting, “We plan to continue the work to eradicate drug use in this county. We also need to teach people how to live without opiates. Our goal is to get people back to normal. We hope this is the first step in that effort.”
Prosecutor Mount agreed the large-scale investigation “...could not have happened without these agencies’ involvement. There’s a catch phrase some like to use, ‘Drug abuse is a victimless crime.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth. Austin and Scott County are victims, and we’ve got to keep fighting. My message is: If you are dealing, stop, or we will find you.”
John Hill, Governor Pence’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Safety, related he had traveled to Scott County after being in Washington D.C. to discuss terrorist threats. There’s no difference here with the drug problem in Scott County and Indiana. And it’s not unique to Scott County; it’s happening across the nation. I agree: if you are dealing, we will come after you, and there is help available to those who want to break their habits.”
Sgt. Jerry Goodin of the ISP Sellersburg post put his feelings on the line. “I live here in Scott County. We are sick and tired of drug deals, we are sick and tired of burying our children and we are sick and tired of crime. I’m warning you drug dealers, don’t think you can sleep good at night because we may be waking you up next. Enough is enough. We are going to come after you.”
Sgt. Goodin encouraged the public, “Keep sending us your information and your tips. They are invaluable in building these cases.”
The case against the ten people is still being investigated, Minkler stated.