A “substantial” amount of heroin was taken off the street when a drug trafficker in Washington C.H. was sentenced to prison, according to authorities.
Gregory L. Brown was sentenced to fours years in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty in Fayette County Court of Common Pleas to felony charges of trafficking in heroin, cocaine, and having weapons under disability.
Arleana B. Smith entered a guilty plea Thursday in the same court for permitting drug abuse. Smith allowed the duplex she lived in “to be used for the commission of a felony drug abuse offense by another person, to-wit: Gregory L. Brown,” according to the bill of information submitted by Fayette County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Scott.
A search warrant executed Dec. 2, 2015 in a duplex that sits a short distance from the Washington C.H. police station yielded five firearms, cocaine, heroin, drug utensils and paraphernalia, and over $4,000 cash.
Brown, 29, and Smith, 41, residents of Washington C.H., were occupants at the East Paint Street duplex and had lived there for a number of years.
“We lived there a total of three years but I had to move out due to physical violence between me and him (Brown) and I was staying with a friend of mine … and she moved in with her mom due to her mom’s illness and I was forced to move back, but I worked every day … I moved back the middle of October,” said Smith in a court statement Thursday. Smith said she “occassionally” stayed at the duplex, according to a previous statement to police.
During the search by detectives and sheriff’s deputies, Brown stated to officers that handguns were locked inside a safe in a bedroom in the duplex. Officers located three handguns inside a safe. In the same room authorities reportedly found a white bag containing a powder substance and digital scales.
Brown and Smith were arrested by sheriff’s deputies during the Dec. 2, 2015 search and taken to the Fayette County Jail. The children living in the home were in school at the time the search was conducted and were taken into custody by family members, according to the sheriff’s office.
The search was the result of a long and ongoing investigation by sheriff’s detectives and the #23 Major Crimes Task Force after the sheriff’s office received numerous reports and tips from the community concerning activity at the duplex, according to the sheriff’s office.
Fayette County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven Beathard referred to Brown’s heroin distribution as “a business” following Smith’s plea on Thursday. Judge Beathard ordered a pre-sentencing investigation in which a recommendation will be made as to whether Smith will be sentenced to community control or prison. Smith is scheduled to appear for sentencing July 25.
According to Scott, Brown himself was not selling heroin to support a drug habit of his own—he was selling heroin to make a profit off of other people’s addictions.
“He was selling drugs out of the house,” said Scott. “When they executed the search warrant they found heroin and cocaine, multiple items of drug paraphernalia, scales and things like that so he could piece it together and sell it out in portions.”
The Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s laboratory report stated 2.69 grams of a tan powder obtained in the search was found to contain heroin—that’s a “substantial” amount of heroin, according to Scott: “It’s enough for a lot of people to use heroin.”
According to heroin addicts in southern Ohio, a user can buy one-tenth of a gram of heroin, which is typically the amount for one or two individual doses. Relative to that information, the 2.69 grams found in the East Paint Street duplex would mean taking more than 25 individual doses of heroin off the street.
“We are taking the drug problem seriously. I know everyone wants to give a break to the persons who are addicted to the drugs but he (Brown) didn’t get a break. He wanted probation on this and there was no way we were letting him have probation—he’s a drug seller. He doesn’t deserve probation. You gotta go after the dealers because without the dealers, hopefully we can shut down some of the drug problem,” said Scott.
“He (Brown) wasn’t an addict. He was distributing for awhile. These pyramid businesses, this top guy gets revenue from everybody who sells beneath them. A lot of times we get low-level distributors but not bigger distributors,” said Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. The investigation revealed there was steady traffic going to the residence—so steady, in fact, that at the time of his arrest Brown had an excess of cash in his pockets, according to the sheriff’s office: $1,742 in his front left pocket and $2,260 in his front right pocket. Brown said the $4,000 cash was the money he had earned working and gambling on X-box, according to police records.
With chronic use, heroin, a schedule I drug, is known to cause brain degeneration and damage, collapsed heart valves, and kidney failure, according to studies published on the National Institute of Health’s website. The most recently available statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report that close to half a million people a year are admitted into hospitals each year for heroin-related injuries.
Heroin has become an epidemic in Fayette County only within the past three-to-five years, said Stanforth, but the investigation around Brown had been lengthy. “Detectives have been working to stop Mr. Brown for several years. He’s been on their radar for awhile. We work with the task force to get as much information as we can to battle the drug trafficking that’s going through the county. This particular case was a long investigation.”
As a result of the plea, Brown agreed to forfeit the five handguns. “According to the law, he shouldn’t have been able to get those (handguns). He has a prior conviction, which makes him ineligible to purchase a handgun. He’s legally disabled because of a prior conviction—he’s not allowed to legally purchase a handgun,” said Scott. “When they did the search warrant they found on him an excess of $4,000 and that was forfeited, which will help to offset his court costs and the money goes into a general fund after that.”
Some of that general fund money will go back into funding the war on drugs in Fayette County. Money will be spent on programs to promote drug education, such as training a D.A.R.E. officer this year, and future drug investigations with detectives and the task force, said Stanforth.
Nationwide there are billions of dollars spent annually in the war on drugs. In February, President Obama requested $31.1 billion dollars for the 2017 budget to operate the war on drugs, an increase of $500 million over 2016’s budget, according to the president’s National Drug Control Budget on whitehouse.gov. Tens of millions of tax-payer dollars will be spent on heroin and opiate-related crimes and overdoses, to include research, monitorization, treatment, and prevention.
As heroin traffickers continue to expand distribution from larger metropolitan areas like Chicago into more urban cities, like Dayton, heroin is emerging in rural counties, like Fayette.
According to Stanforth, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work with the #23 Major Crimes Task Force. The task force, which works in a five-county South Central region of Ohio across Ross, Pickaway, Pike, Highland, and Fayette counties, exchanges knowledge and information with other Ohio task forces to target major drug traffickers and make arrests.
“Just because we make an arrest doesn’t mean our job is over. Every community in every city has some type of drug activity, much of it under the radar,” said Stanforth, noting that because drug trafficking is profitable, arrests and prison sentences become acceptable risks to drug traffickers who are able to blend into communities. “Every neighborhood is a good neighborhood, but every neighborhood has drug problems.”
At first glance East Paint Street looks like an average southern Ohio suburban neighborhood: mature trees line both sides of the street and provide ample shade to kids who ride bikes past American flags gently waving from front porches decorated with flowers blooming out of formidable rock gardens and ceramic planters. But the houses along East Paint Street are also economically diverse: attractive homes with ultra-manicured lawns run up against dilapidated houses with busted-out screens and smatterings of cigarette butts, blunt wrappers, aluminum foil, and cans littering the stoops.
Residents living in the East Paint Street vicinity reacted to the trafficking investigation in their neighborhood—people who that said five years ago there was no heroin in this neighborhood.
One of the neighbors, who asked not to be named, said, “[Heroin] is a big problem. It’s not only just next door, it’s all over the United States and something is going to have to be done and—of course I guess (Brown’s arrest) is a start.”
Doug Saunders, CEO of the Fayette County Family YMCA, lives on East Paint Street and said he wasn’t surprised heroin was being sold in the neighborhood. “At every community meeting you go to, it’s the big topic. It’s not just Washington C.H., it’s all over, every city, shape, size, it’s all over the place,” said Saunders.
Further down the block, resident Starr Hunt called the heroin epidemic ridiculous. “It’s everywhere. It’s normal around here. There’s been a bunch of them (drug traffickers) go. There’s a lot of them. And there’s a lot of them that need to go.”
She said drug transactions happen all the time in front of her house. “You can take pictures all you want and nothing happens. The only thing you can do is walk outside and throw them off your side of the road. They’ll park right here,” Hunt said and pointed to the street parking space in front of her house.
Hunt doesn’t think taking one drug trafficker off the street is going to have much of an impact on the neighborhood. “It’s everywhere. People you would never even think would be doing that—are doing that (heroin).”
Stanforth said that even when tips are reported about criminal and drug activity, the sheriff’s office has to “develop probable cause before we can get a search warrant. We know they’re dealing drugs—we can’t take that to court. We are obligated to ensure everybody’s Constitutional rights are protected.”
Stanforth said residents can continue to report crime and drug-related tips anonymously on the sheriff’s website which helps them to start to build a case. “Tips about activity and this type of thing does pay off. Time after time people call us about different drug activities and it takes a long time to get enough information to get in and make an arrest.”
Stanforth said residents need to pay attention to what is going on in their neighborhoods and continue to make reports especially when they begin to see a difference in a house. Residents need to “own their neighborhood”, according to Stanforth.
“When they own their neighborhood, they know their neighbor, they understand things, they know what’s going on and when things are different. It’s when those residents own their neighborhood—that’s what makes the difference.”
Reach Ashley Bunton at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton.